Second Round Collaborative Grants Announced
The SSRC is pleased to announce the second round of small grants for academic-advocacy collaboration in the media and communications field. These grants provide up to $7,500 for short term, academic-advocacy collaborations. Five grants were announced on December 22.
Analyzing Restricted Access to Fiber-Optic Cable in Africa
Organization: Association for Progressive Communications
Principal Researcher: Dr. Abiodun Jagun
In mid 2007, the monopolistic arrangement governing access to the South Atlantic Telephony-3/West African Submarine Cable (SAT-3/WASC)—the primary conduit for Internet connectivity for West Africa—came to an end. It is expected that the end of this monopoly will bring about much needed competition in the international services markets of the telecom sectors in the countries that connect directly to the submarine cable. This would facilitate significant reductions in the cost of international bandwidth in these countries and result in increased utilization of communication technologies and services (the Internet, in particular) for economic and social development. This research will facilitate campaigns against ‘closed’ and restricted access to communications infrastructure by: (1) providing valuable, consolidated information on the history and status of the SAT-3/WASC cable in specific member countries, and (2) providing analysis of the consequences of restricted access to, and high cost of, international bandwidth in the specified countries. These would (3) provide data to further strengthen (policy) advocacy and calls for interventions in current and future campaigns, aimed not only at reversing the monopolistic structure of SAT-3/WASC in member countries, but also at the more equitable structuring of future infrastructure projects.
Media Monitoring to Improve Local Media Communities
Organization: Media Tank
Principal Researcher: Jan Fernback, Ph.D
Media monitoring is one way communities can become empowered to create changes in their local media system. Media Tank has begun developing a local media monitoring and analysis project that will allow Philadelphia residents to better understand the current media system and the role news institutions play in framing the discussion of important issues in the city. This will be a first step towards increasing local news accountability and community involvement in critical decisions about Philadelphia’s media system. Jan Fernback at Temple University will be responsible for analyzing the findings and working with Media Tank volunteers on creating a report of the findings. Along with a written report of the findings, Media Tank may also create a video highlighting some of the findings that can be told through a visual medium. The findings will be released through an official press conference and through grassroots activist channels, as well as incorporated into Media Tank’s community education work as a way to bolster the organization's media education curriculum. More than a dozen social justice groups, journalist organizations, community-based organizations, and other media justice groups in Philadelphia have all expressed interest in knowing the findings of this project and participating in discussions when the time comes.
Needs and Tactics for Building Community Communication Infrastructure: A Case Study of the Tribal Digital Village
Organization: Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association
Principal Researcher: Christian Sandvig, Ph.D
This project will fund the collaborative production of a 15-minute documentary film and the accompanying educational outreach materials that analyze the Tribal Digital Village, a Native American wireless Internet infrastructure project in rural California. These materials will be professionally produced and based on academic research led by Sandvig and a number of University of Illinois graduate students. The research design involves cooperative participant observation of TDV and other related groups, combined with archival research, quantitative content analysis, and open-ended interview. Strategically, the project is meant to address multiple audiences. For policymakers and the general public, it will provide compelling documentation of the high level of need for basic communications infrastructure in some communities in the US. For community activists, it will provide a model for other community-driven wireless projects (nationally and Internationally, Indian and non-Indian) in areas with severe infrastructure needs. Finally, for policymakers and spectrum regulators, it will highlight the value of unlicensed spectrum in providing rural infrastructure solutions for the underserved.
Migrant Voices: Applying Communication for Social Change methodology with day laborers and garment workers in Los Angeles
Organization: The Institute of Popular Education of Southern California and the Garment Worker Center
Principal Researcher: Sasha Costanza-Chock
Immigrant workers in the city of Los Angeles have very limited access to channels of broadbased communication. Except in special circumstances, such as the May 2006 immigrant mobilizations, they are rarely engaged even by local radio or LPFM stations. The Institute of Popular Education of Southern California and the Garment Worker Center will use the ‘Communication for Social Change’ research methodology to analyze the technical, organizational, and policy requirements for a hybrid radio/net/telephony project by and for immigrant workers—one that builds on the relative abundance of mobile phones within this community to help them communicate and organize more effectively. This work highlights an emerging area that media policy researchers and advocacy organizations have so far mostly ignored: the growing importance of the mobile phone as a platform for basic media services as well as activist media experimentation—and the danger that a handful of telephony providers will shut down the potential for such innovation through restrictive mobile terms of service. At a policy level, our project points to the need to consider public interest regulation in this area ('net neutrality' for mobile connectivity). The participatory research process will produce three outputs: a concrete plan for implementing the media project, popular education materials, and an analysis of policy implications.
A Development-based Critique of Telecentre Deployment in India
Organization: IT for Change (with the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management)
Principal Researcher (s): Rahul De'
India has one of the largest numbers of ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) projects in the world. Many of these are ‘telecentre’ initiatives located in rural contexts that provide computer-related ‘services’. The telecentre approach has been constructed as the primary way to include rural populations into the information society grid. Basic connectivity and financial sustainability have been the overriding concerns. So far, most of these initiatives—including large government-sponsored ones—have proceeded without a critical analysis of the social, economic and developmental objectives sought in ‘bridging the digital divide. The current study proposes to analyze existing initiatives and suggest a development model that will inform large-scale public efforts for evolving telecentres and ICT-based services infrastructure in rural India. The study will be a timely influence on public policy efforts in ICTD to include disadvantaged groups in rural India and to promote empowering uses of new ICTs to further social justice goals. IT for Change and their academic partner, the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, have strong linkages with public agencies and, as part of their mandate, have been advocating public-interest concerns, especially in ICTD.