The People’s Internet is a community wireless project led by a collective of organizers and researchers from Detroit, New York, and Tennessee since 2011. In the last year, participants have  expanded the groundbreaking model of community-led internet access created by Detroit’s leaders in digital justice to several new communities (see the Digital Equity Laboratory’s case study Growing Digital Equity, which details this work. Using the Equitable Internet Initiative, or EII model, the project advances the work of ​community technologists​ (educators, technologists, artists, and community organizers) (Open Technology Institute, 2013; Rogers, 2017).

The People’s Internet is led by the The New School’s Digital Equity initiative, along with the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) and Community Technology Collective (CTNY), a New York State-based group that applies ​community technology​ as a method of teaching and learning about technology with the goal of facilitating a healthy integration of technology into people’s lives and communities, honoring the principles of Access, Participation, Common Ownership, and Healthy Communities (Nucera, 2016). Together, CTNY and DCTP build and support EII projects as the Community Technology Collective (CTC). The Allied Media Projects​ (AMP), a network of people and projects cultivating media for liberation including CTNY and DCTP, owns the EII trademark.

Since 2016, led by DCTP, the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) has brought community-built residential high-speed internet service to 200 underserved households in Detroit; led by CTNY members, a sister initiative (Resilient Communities NYC) brought neighborhood preparedness networks in five coastal New York City neighborhoods (Byrum and Nucera, 2018; Byrum, 2019). Aside from internet access, these neighborhood networks also offer applied community benefits when applications and uses are added to the basic infrastructure: e.g, air quality measurement in the South Bronx and Southwest Detroit; and in both cities, platforms to help neighborhood businesses organize and grow their local tech ecosystems, and for local organizations to provide tech job training and placement.

In 2018, a ​​Vice Motherboard​ documentary​​ about EII in Detroit brought a flood of requests for assistance from networking groups around the world (Rogers, 2017). Two new community technology partners - one in the Hudson Valley of New York State and another in the Clearfork Valley of Tennessee -- started spinning up EII network projects with plans to create community-defined goals to advance digital ecosystem health. Community Tech NY formed and joined DCTP in the Community Tech Collective to help these two groups to seed and grow their networks on the East Coast.

The growing alliance created by these partnerships is expanding and testing the EII model. To document and evaluate progress, the People’s Internet -- a joint venture between The New School for Social Research and the Community Technology Collective in partnership with EII communities -- is engaging in participatory action research to document how these groups work to collectively set the course for growing and improving the impact of community networks.

The People’s Internet applied research project has two interconnected goals: 1) Seed new community networks in the Tennessee and Hudson Valleys, as well as New York City, Detroit, and Los Angeles, in collaboration with local partners who seek to foster healthy neighborhood-based digital ecosystems and address local challenges; and 2) In collaboration with existing and new partners, develop a shared framework for measuring and evaluating the success paths and equity impact of community networks.

We are grateful for the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas Program. The New School Research Team includes co-PIs Greta Byrum (Digital Equity Laboratory) and Anthropology Faculty Shannon Mattern, with research associates Ever Bussey and Specialist Erica Kermani, as well as advisor Maya Wiley.

Please see our Baseline Report: The People’s Internet Measuring Progress towards Healthier Digital Ecosystems, for more information and references.