Wiley: ‘…We are building on top of a discriminatory infrastructure’

At the 2016 RPA Assembly, we hosted a session on reversing the digital divide in our region. RPA Senior Planner Mandu Sen presented the research and preliminary Fourth Regional Plan recommendations for bridging the gap in digital access in the New York region, and a distinguished panel of local and national experts on technology and policy solutions offered their reactions and feedback.

Among them was outgoing NYC Counsel to the Mayor Maya Wiley, who serves as the administration’s lead on addressing broadband access within the five boroughs. In her remarks, Wiley highlighted the systemic roots of the digital divide.

“This is also a highly racialized divide; it’s not just an income divide. And the reason that’s important is because if we’re really going to talk about universal broadband access, particularly in a region that’s highly diverse — remember that 2/3 of New Yorkers are not white and 36% of our population was not born in United States. We have 800 languages. A lot of what we’re talking about when we talk about that exclusion is not only racialized, but also racialized.

And the way we got to the design that Mandu talked about was really that we started building broadband infrastructure on top of an already inequitable telephone system. When I was in the U.S. Attorney’s office, when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was being debated, actually civil rights groups including the NAACP, including La Raza were already working on the fact that the telephone system itself had actually redlined communities of color and that everyone understood the infrastructure was going to follow a lot of that proprietary infrastructure that was telephone lines to go to a more advanced form of technology that was going to get us to broadband.

So literally, without necessarily having racial intent to discriminate, because we are building on top of a discriminatory infrastructure, we are reinforcing over and over again that discrimination that happened decades before.”

Hear the full audio from this session below. Panel participants include BetaNYC Executive Director Noel Hidalgo, Newark Chief Information Officer Seth Wainer, Counsel to the Mayor or New York City Maya Wiley and Knight Foundation Director of Community and National Strategy Benjamin de la Peña as moderator.

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