Panel Paper: Using Participatory Action Research to Reveal the Successes and Barriers in Take-up of Free Broadband Internet Access for Low-Income Residents of New York City

Friday, November 3, 2017
Horner (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Hannah Thomas and Elizabeth Giardino, Abt Associates, Inc.

Using participatory action research to reveal the successes and barriers in take-up of free Broadband Internet access for low-income residents of New York City

Access to high speed broadband internet has a broad range of possible benefits for households in New York City, including accessing financial services, finding employment, communicating with NYCHA, and accessing city services. However, many low-income communities do not have access to broadband internet. In response to this divide in access to broadband internet, New York City agencies have partnered to pilot and install free, high speed broadband service in five public housing developments across the five boroughs. It is expected to connect thousands of city residents, including many who previously lacked access to reliable, affordable, internet service at home. NYCHA Broadband is a collaboration between the Office of the Mayor’s Counsel, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The project began with piloting the installation of broadband internet service in two of the five public housing developments: Queensbridge and Red Hook Houses.

This paper reviews the findings from an evaluation of the NYCHA broadband pilot initiative in the Queensbridge and Red Hook houses. The research design and data collection strategy of this evaluation drew on methods of community-based, participatory research (CBPR). This paradigm involves community members as research partners—not only research respondents—throughout the project. In this study, public housing residents were a part of the community research team conducting interviews and focus groups with the paper authors. The paper draws insights in conducting multi-stakeholder research with a community driven component, reflecting on the ways that CBPR methodology provided insights that would otherwise have been unavailable to researchers. The paper also provides a review of the successes and challenges of installing broadband internet and addressing the digital divide in low-income housing.