Christopher Ali: Rural Broadband in the United States: Politics, Policies, and Polities

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Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity by Christopher Ali


How did the U.S. manage to connect rural communities with electricity in the 1940s but has largely failed to do so for broadband today? Who are the key stakeholders in broadband policy, funding, and deployment. What will be the impact of the Infrastructure Act — the largest public investment in telecommunications in the country's history — on broadband in rural, remote, and Tribal communities? Why have policymakers largely failed to correct the rural digital infrastructure divide? Where are the communities most un- and underserved in the United States? This talk will address these questions through the lenses of politics, policies, and polities of rural broadband in the United States. Grounded in the tenets of critical political economy and critical geography, the argument will be made that a people-centered approach to rural broadband is necessary to achieve the goal of connecting rural communities. Anything else will see rural broadband policy and deployment initiatives repeat past failures that privileged politics and profits over people and polities. This talk will begin and end with discussions of the 2021 Infrastructure Act and the precedent-breaking BEAD program. In the middle, we will take a step back to assess the history of connectivity in rural communities, the failure of broadband policy to date, and the rural communities that have connected themselves in the wake of market and policy failures.


Christopher Ali holds the Pioneers Chair and is Professor of Telecommunications in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State University. The author of the recent book Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity (MIT Press, 2021), Ali's work focuses on the critical analysis of broadband policy, planning, and deployment in the United States and increasingly in a global context. In addition to his three books, his work has been published in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Mass Communication & Society, Communication Theory, and the International Journal of Communication, among many other highly ranked peer-reviewed journals. He has testified before the Senate Commerce Committee regarding rural broadband programming and has bylines in The New York Times, The Hill, Washington Monthly, Realtor Magazine, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Broadband Breakfast, Digital Beat, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

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Twitter @ali_christopher

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