Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic, access to reliable, high-performance broadband internet was a necessity for many of us to be able to meaningfully participate in our workplaces, schools, and communities. The pandemic has made this even more apparent.
The digital divide separating those with access from those without is hardly a new issue, but what is less often discussed is how that digital divide looks different in rural versus urban spaces.
In episode 141 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview media scholar Christopher Ali, who argues that rural broadband access and connectivity is a crucial social justice concern, one with implications for everything from education and healthcare to the food available for us to eat.
In our conversation, Chris and I chat about why federal policy has so consistency failed to bring broadband to rural communities and what a rural broadband plan would look like that put the needs of local populations first.
He highlights the community groups that are connecting themselves and offering creative infrastructure models in the process.
We also discuss Chris’s unique interdisciplinary research methodology for his new book Farm Fresh Broadband, which involved a 3,600-mile road trip with his adorable hound dog Tuna.
Finally, we close out the episode with a vision for a more connected world and what it would take to get there.
Christopher Ali is an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia whose research focuses on communication policy and regulation, rural broadband, media localism, and critical political economy.
His newest book, Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity (MIT Press, 2021), analyzes how and why US broadband policy has consistently failed rural communities and offers a new broadband plan for the US that draws on the creative strategies of local communities and offers a real democratic option.
Christopher is a frequent commentator on the subjects of broadband, media policy, and local news in outlets such as the Washington Post, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, NPR, CNET, CBC, Bloomberg, and his scholarly research appears in journals including
Communication Theory, Media Culture & Society, and Telecommunications Policy.
In April 2021, Christopher testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on a hearing about federal broadband policies and has presented broadband recommendations to members of the US House of Representatives, the New York State Blue Ribbon Commission on Re-Imagining New York, and the governors’ offices of Illinois and Virginia.