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Understanding the Essential Role of Broadband Access For An Equitable Democracy

Read more about the event that brought together digital equity community organizers, scholars, and policy stakeholders.

Author: Jimmeka Anderson, Postdoctoral Fellow


On January 22, 2024, CIRCLE and the Media Democracy Fund hosted a virtual roundtable titled "The Role of Broadband Access for an Equitable Democracy." The event brought together digital equity community organizers, scholars, and policy stakeholders from across the United States to discuss the importance of broadband access in fostering civic participation in communities. Discussions from the roundtable highlighted how broadband access is not just a matter of convenience but an essential resource for engaging in the democratic process.


The Conversation 

Panelists at the event emphasized how broadband access is more than just a technological convenience; it is a necessary utility of today's democratic society. The theme of broadband accessibility as a need for all communities to support an equitable democracy was constantly emphasized throughout the event. A research presentation conducted by CIRCLE's senior researcher, Sara Suzuki, highlighted how broadband access has become a fundamental requirement for civic participation and political engagement in the digital age. However, Suzuki unveiled from a recent study conducted by CIRCLE that many communities, particularly those in rural and underserved areas in the South, still lack reliable and affordable broadband access, which also has influenced civic participation among citizens. Thus, showcasing how this digital divide not only hinders individual access to information and resources but also threatens the overall health of our democracy.  

Presentations from digital equity community leaders Shalondra Greenlee (NC Counts) and Jamie Rasberry (Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits) spotlighted how broadband plays a role in enabling citizens to access critical information, participate in political discourse, and engage with their representatives. Speakers expressed that without broadband access, many individuals are left on the sidelines of the democratic process, unable to participate fully in the decisions that affect their lives.  

Key Takeaways 

The roundtable discussion on the role of broadband access in fostering an equitable democracy yielded several key findings. First and foremost, it became clear that broadband access is not only a matter of technological infrastructure but also a matter of social equity. The digital divide disproportionately affects low-income communities, people of color, and rural areas, exacerbating existing disparities in political participation.  

During the roundtable, various panelists and participants shared their experiences and insights into the challenges and opportunities of broadband access. Shalondra Greenlee, from North Carolina, highlighted the importance of digital equity in the context of the 2020 census. She emphasized the need for affordable devices, digital skills training for residents, collaboration among organizations, and advocacy for policies promoting digital equity.  

The roundtable discussion on the role of broadband access in fostering an equitable democracy shed light on the challenges and opportunities surrounding this critical issue. For more detailed insights into the event, watch the full video of the roundtable or read the summary from the Media Democracy Fund's Digital Equity and Opportunity Initiative (DEOI).  

Read the event summary to learn more.