Without Political Power, There is No Path to Digital Equity - Episode 591 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

Episode 591 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast features a panel from Net Inclusion that Christopher Mitchell moderated entitled, "Without Political Power, There is No Path to Digital Equity." In it, panelists raise difficult questions for the digital equity movement about whether they are on track to achieve their goals - whether the main strategies used today can result in digital equity or are destined to fall well short.

Panelists include Melanie Silva, COO of Hinton & Company in Chattanooga; Shayna Englin, Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation; Joshua Edmonds, CEO of Digital C in Cleveland; and Dan Ryan, Vice-Chair of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga.

The discussion includes constructive criticism of the movement for digital equity, as well as more specific criticism of the decision to move the Net Inclusion conference from Chattanooga to Philadelphia. That decision was entangled with - and justified by - the concerns of some regarding safety in the wake of attempts in the Tennessee Legislature to revoke the rights of Transgender individuals, among others. The panel felt it was important not to ignore those issues as we wrangled with the larger issue of building a better society with more rights and opportunities for everyone.

We hope you find this discussion useful and respectful of the larger movement despite disagreements on some important issues.

This show is 93 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show: please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Christopher Mitchell (00:00:01):
Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It's just got a little bit of a weird thing in my throat, so the voice is a little bit off, but doesn't much matter because today we've got a special recording for you that's a little bit longer than our normal show, but I hope will provide some really valuable perspectives. This is a panel that I helped to run at the Net Inclusion Conference [00:00:30] by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and we have some great voices, some of whom you'll find familiar talking about digital equity. This is a panel that we did that I'd used a hand recorder and an engineer named Matt Purdy helped me to clean it up. Well, he did the work cleaning it up to make it sound better, so hope that you will enjoy that. This is a panel in which we cover challenges to digital equity, whether or not people are on track to achieve digital [00:01:00] equity.

You got 1300 people at this event, and I start off the panel by noting that I am concerned that a lot of people are not on a path to achieve their goals. And so we talk about that and whether we can see the path to digital equity from our current strategies that are being used in the field. We also discussed the role of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which has been crucial in helping digital inclusion efforts, but we talk about some of the criticisms that some people have. [00:01:30] This panel comes about in part because of n DIA's decision to pull that conference out of Chattanooga and to put it in Philadelphia, going from one of the best cities for digital inclusion in the world to one that is run by Comcast and has a long way to go toward digital equity. We talk about that more, a little bit more toward the beginning, and then we focus more on what it will take to achieve digital equity toward the end. We also discussed some of the challenges and why the conference was moved because [00:02:00] of the discrimination that some people feel because of their identity and a little bit about how that is changing in the world. So we talk about a number of different issues, but I thought this was a really valuable conversation that I hope you'll also get something out of.

Just throw a recorder on because I wanted to remember this since I cajoled these folks into joining the panel. I am Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance [00:02:30] in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I've been doing this for 16 years. Community broadband networks work. I've been excited to be a part of NDIA. Our work at the Institute for Local Self Ance is focused on recognition that not everyone was going to have high holiday Internet access and that not everyone would necessarily have the capacity to use it absent some kind of focused community effort. And so we look at ways in which [00:03:00] communities can make sure everyone is well connected. And I like to say it's the benefits of the network. That's ultimately why we're here. No one really cares at the end of the day have that connection. The question is, is it making your life better?

Is it giving it more our rates than the next generation and that sort of thing. Today I'm going to choose the panel. We're going to dive into it. I think this is going to be pretty lively. I like to keep it moving and so if someone has a question in the middle [00:03:30] or wants to make a point, but most of the people that I know here, you have good judgment and so we'll only make really good points and I don't say that to discourage anyone, but I will be walking around the mic as needed if people have questions throughout. We'll also have a little bit of time at the end I think to try and do some extra q and a. But if in the middle, just like I really want to ask this. Go ahead.

Yeah, I'll take that out. [00:04:00] I just want to say this panel, we're not taking this lightly. We're going to have some fun I'm sure, but for all of us, this is very serious and we're going to be talking about some serious things. Some of our friends may get criticized, some of the people in audience may be criticized. I might get criticized. This is something that we think is terribly important as we'll be clear as we start going in terms of making sure that we are on a path to make sure everyone is well connected and that we are able to ensure [00:04:30] the benefits of the Internet are shared far and wide. So I just want to give that out there that we are taking this very seriously. Please do come in if you're standing outside, there are chairs all over the place over here. There's still standing room in the back.

There's a lot of space and if you don't need to be on an aisle, could move on down and create a little space easier for folks. That'd be good. So let me start. We're going to do short introductions and like I said, [00:05:00] actually I think of the five of us, I'm the only one who planned to come here regardless of what this panel is accepted. And then I thought it was really important that we hear these voices because they're somewhat critical at times for some of the strategies that we use. So lemme start by introducing Shane England, director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation and someone who I think is doing pathbreaking work to building a strategy [00:05:30] to actually make sure everyone in Los Angeles County is connected and even well beyond there. So Shana, tell us briefly why you're here, why you decided to make the tread hair cross California to come out here and talk to us.

Shayna Englin (00:05:43):
Thanks Chris. Yeah, as you said, Shayna Englin. I'm the director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation. In that role, I run programming and a grant making program and as sort of I guess unavoidable volunteer projects [00:06:00] convened the Digital Equity LA coalition through that also the statewide California Alliance for Digital Equity Through that, and I see a number of folks who joined us for a meeting last week, good to see y'all or a couple of weeks ago now, and also have brought together a pooled fund of philanthropy from around the state to support technical assistance for nonprofits and local governments to engage in the regulatory battles at CPUC primarily and at [00:06:30] FCC. And why am I here? Because Chris, you asked me to, is this the

Christopher Mitchell (00:06:37):
First you've thought of this subject?

Shayna Englin (00:06:39):
The first I've thought about political power? No. So my background is in political campaigns and political organizing and I come to digital equity work through the lens that none of the other equity or justice that we fight for is possible without digital equity especially. That's been true for [00:07:00] a really long time. Just a quick aside, my political background is in field organizing. I ran field campaigns for years and years and years and I'm ancient. And so when I was running field campaigns, when I first started doing that, there really was no Internet. You didn't text people, you didn't email people, you went to people's doors, you hosted house parties, you were in community. And then there was a campaign cycle that was kind of the first one that everything [00:07:30] really started to move to online work. And the expectation was less that you would have a great list of organizers and you stopped having in-person precinct captains and things like that.

And instead you had email lists. And what we saw very quickly, literally in the course of one cycle in the work that I was doing, was that that move reduced by at least half the people that we were working with in certain communities, just completely [00:08:00] cut them out of our communication, our organizing, and therefore also out of our policy work, our equity work, our power work. And that was really my pathway into digital equity work was because that seemed bad. And so that's really the lens through which I approach this work. And not that I don't think that digital inclusion is important. I think that digital navigators are important. I think all the work that we do is important. I also think that none of it is going to be effective [00:08:30] if we don't figure out power. And that's politics.

Christopher Mitchell (00:08:36):
Thank you Shayna. Melanie Silva, chief operating officer of Hinton and Company out of Chattanooga doesn't even begin to get into all of the experience that you bring, although I think Melanie is sitting here hoping that you will all have questions about broadband technology because that's your specialty.

Melanie Silva (00:08:57):
That and how I transformed [00:09:00] from Jeff Milliner,

Christopher Mitchell (00:09:04):
You will got quite an upgrade. Lemme say

Melanie Silva (00:09:09):
I'm very mature from my age. Thank you Chris. And yeah, so my work is primarily I get to work in workplace culture and diversity, equity inclusion, so centered around meeting people where they are, but in a workplace environment. But that also comes [00:09:30] with over a decade rooted in community, not only grassroots organizations, but foundation work just like Shana. And so one of the things that comes up in that work is how do we bridge the digital divide? So why am I here today? Because Deb socio asked me to be here today and I am a career person living [00:10:00] in the south, and that's not always easy. And so digital equity is important for people like me and people in the trans community to have access to safety and community through digital spaces because we don't have the luxury of doing things the good old fashioned way because we might get fired from our jobs or bad things can happen to us. And so those spaces are very important. And so I'm here to talk about that [00:10:30] as well as the equity lens that gets brought to everything that I get to do in my work.

Christopher Mitchell (00:10:38):
Thank you. And it's a reminder for me that I approach this often from a strategic point of view in terms of how do we achieve the goals that we're trying to do. One of the things that we'll be touching on is how for some people political power is important to be thinking about and organizing on just to make sure that they have the basic rights that people [00:11:00] like me take for granted. Dan Ryan is the vice chair at the enterprise center, which is something that especially I can tell you've been doing for a long time because all the history about the EPB fiber and what's been going on there and how to make sure that the community has done well. Before you start, I do want to say one of the things that as someone who has studied deeply the Chattanooga Fiber project, I feel like people don't always appreciate all of the work that has been done by people who had nothing to do with [00:11:30] the fiber network before the network was built and after it was built, it is truly something where the fiber has enabled a lot of new investment and benefits, but because of all kinds of people didn't really care about the fiber.

And so when you're looking around and you're trying to figure out how can we be another Chattanooga, we'll plan on 10 years of preparatory work, building a whole lot of coalitions, and then being effective at coming up with cool plans and executing them afterward. Thanks.

Dan Ryan (00:11:56):
Yeah. I'm Dan Ryan, vice Enterprise [00:12:00] Center. I've been actually working on the EPP project since a year before it was announced. I was web developer by trade. My agency was doing the website for the SPR project at EPP, so we got to beta test it and all that. So yeah, it's been since before it was ever announced we were doing it. I'm a queer non-binary person. I use he she they pronouns interchangeably. So take your pick. I think I'm here primarily because this is not in Chattanooga, which is where it was. [00:12:30] It was moved because Tennessee passed some anti-trans legislation and politics got involved.

And that's not what anybody wants to talk about or think about, about why A DIA is here, but this is not where it was meant to be this year. And we got asked to come to make sure that that wasn't silenced. But this is also not the panel I was meant to be on. I was meant to be on a panel to talk about doing this work when you are in a marginalized community and your life is politicized. [00:13:00] But they didn't want that panel happening either. So they took the word politics and for me and with this group who I love and I'm super honored, but let's be real, this is not a narrative that they want to talked about here today. We're not going to focus on that at time. We just want to talk about that it happened. Can I just ask who they is in the IH board? Okay. I want to be specific. Yes sir. That's great. Thanks Shane. Thank you. That question. Yes. This could be the best Frankenstein monster that has ever been created.

Christopher Mitchell (00:13:30):
[00:13:30] Joshua Edmonds doesn't want instruction. He's from digital scene. Take from that. Does anyone here not know who Joshua Edmonds is? No, there's some. Alright. Alright. Joshua Edmonds is inspiration. We on Reese his hand boss. So Leon got Joshua into this work in Cleveland. Joshua went to Detroit and did really important work, learned a lot about politics, had an opportunity to come back to Cleveland and make a real difference with an awesome organization called [00:14:00] Digital Seed. There's a whole podcast on it that is coming out in two weeks to talk about that. So welcome Joshua.

Joshua Edmonds (00:14:07):
Well thank you. And similar to what everyone else is saying, I also was on the fence of coming to this and that's not because I don't find this conference or even engagement valuable. I mean this has actually been a very, very nice family reunion minus the smell of barbecue because there wasn't the smell of [00:14:30] barbecue.

However, it was a very nice family reunion in that there's been a lot of you all that I've been able to see since the beginning when I mean the beginning, you all remember when getting a hotspot and getting a computer and doing some training, that was it. I mean that was digital inclusion if you did that. But you were far ahead of the curve and it's great to see how far we've come, but also necessary now that we're having this conversation, how far we have to go. And it really undergirds some of the stuff that we've seen even with [00:15:00] the ACP, seeing the priests, seeing kind of where we might've missed the marks on some things. I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight when I see someone like Gigi. So, and I see the incredible work that she's doing now, but what I'll be honest, what she should have been doing had the organization and the political power been actually in place in the way it needed to be.

But see that's just a microcosmo of the example that many of us on the local part, [00:15:30] we also feel those ramifications too. And so today I'll be sharing a little bit more about the political experience that happened in Detroit where the stuff that we wanted to do, I did swear so I'll do the first swear word today guys. So letting you all know municipal broadband not allowed to say that we were pushing for municipal broadband [00:16:00] and that really catapulted us into the political fight. We had to, there was no choice but to lean into a lot of those organizing tactics. And now that I'm over in Cleveland, it's very similar work. And so today I just wanted to talk much more about how we need to scale that and that yes, all these other conversations that are happening even simultaneous to this panel, they're important.

But what we can't do [00:16:30] is we can't skip past some of these things that make us maybe a bit uncomfortable and we say political, yes and going to that land or that realm of the equity side of visual equity but with an actual emphasis on equity and doing that in an honest way. And so that's more so what I'd want to talk about today.

Christopher Mitchell (00:16:51):
Alright, so the way that I wanted to kick this off, and this will be a conversation that pops around quite a bit and for some parts of it, some people might be more engaged and in pull [00:17:00] 'em any more and other parts where they're more engaged and less engaged is that I can't shake the feeling that when I'm up in that room upstairs this morning and yesterday that there's a lot of people out there doing really good work, but that we are not on a path to winning.

We are not on a path to achieving our goals. And not only that, I think if the pandemic, the virus mutates significantly over the summer resolving in, [00:17:30] everyone agreed that schools could not be opened in the fall. I think 90% of the people who did not have Internet access in the home in 2020 to not have home Internet access in 2024 being the school year. We have squandered a historic opportunity even though people are doing really hard work. Really important. We have missed some key parts and I want to just wrestle with that a little bit to start with what that means about whether we are on the right track to achieve our goals and what we might [00:18:00] be missing that we need to do in order to achieve our goals. If you all are just going to, no one wants to jump in, stand your hands. I'm going to take the Shana right away,

Shayna Englin (00:18:11):
I'll just start and get this. And I'm like, fuck. We had a little conversation about if we were going to allow that. That's not

Christopher Mitchell (00:18:18):
Where I thought we needed.

Shayna Englin (00:18:21):
But actually that's probably a reasonable summation of my initial feeling about that given that we're not anywhere where I can just post emojis like [00:18:30] the emoji. But Chris, as you know, I agree and I think the boat that we missed several big boat one, we missed a systems change boat, right? There's been so much money. So I'm here from Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School district is the second largest in the country, has spent a hundred million dollars to date and has [00:19:00] spent a lot more than that. But to date a hundred million of the digital divide dollars that they spent was in paying subscriptions for families to get online to either charter or at t. So in LA Charter is our monopoly provider and there's a little bit of overlap with at t charter writer of First refusal then at t did not get particularly good rates for that and did [00:19:30] not have anything in that.

That said, if we have a family who needs to get online that you don't serve yet, you'll serve them. So a hundred million dollars in two years to not be able to get every family that every L-A-U-S-U student that wasn't connected, connected because something like 15 to 20% of the addresses that they forwarded to charter and then at and t they could not serve a hundred million dollars. Imagine [00:20:00] two things. One, even if we could have served all of those kids with that a hundred million dollars with those expensive subscriptions, that's over. There's not another a hundred million dollars for that. So all of those families are disconnected again, one, two, imagine what else we could have done with that. Imagine L-A-U-S-D partnering with say the city of la, bureau of Street Lighting to tap into streetlight dark fiber or Department of [00:20:30] water and power or partnering to build N networks or any number of systems solutions as opposed to continuing to write big checks to charter and at t.

And that's not to even talk about the tens of millions of dollars in Verizon hotspots that it turned out didn't actually work because a bunch of our families who weren't covered live in apartment buildings that are built out cinder blocks and those hotspots just don't work in there. So I totally agree with you Chris. [00:21:00] I think a big sort of piece that we missed was system change opportunity and we focused on more of the same. And I think the second thing about that is that in doing that we missed an opportunity to do that power building and organizing, right? There is nothing like a crisis to actually build some power and to build some community and to build some community capacity and understanding around how power works and by being like no, no, no, we're going to [00:21:30] yeah, ACP and let's write more and more public checks to these companies rather than do anything else. We miss that opportunity to organize and do power building. I don't think it's gone. I think we still have that opportunity. I actually think with ACP going away as again, we all knew it was going to for quite some time, but with ACP going away, there's another kind of opportunity to actually do that organizing and capacity building and power building if we can [00:22:00] figure out how not to get our own way. I

Christopher Mitchell (00:22:03):
Want to see who else has a comment, but I also want to warn the audience that this is not all doom and gloom. So if you came here for 90 minutes of doom and gloom, we're not going to give you that. We're going to start off there 90 minutes

Joshua Edmonds (00:22:17):
Josh. I mean I always want to add something I'm sharing. So yes, with respect to the systems, I mean there are [00:22:30] votes that we've missed and I would even argue if we just really focus on ACP for a second, and obviously we're going to acknowledge ACP being the child of EBV or the emergency broadband benefit and by nature that was an emergency response, a crisis response to affordability. So with a crisis response, how long do you plan on having an emergency? And so if it's an emergency, that's instant, right? I need this now. Our [00:23:00] families need this now. So you got it. Then we had a program, great, ACP as it's ending. The thing is what maybe irks me sometimes is when we begin talking about equity, it comes with at least the people who are maybe I'm going to do it the best I can and say all caps equity and ital I, lowercase equity because it's like the all caps equity would look at ACP and look at something like that and say great, that's the immediate [00:23:30] relief.

But what's the long-term plan? And in many cases we actually know what that is. Already. Many of your own communities, you know what that is and there's almost sometimes like this, well to be said, what something that could pass the smell test that's digestible for enough people that's not going to ruffle enough feathers. So therefore that must be good enough. And I think that good enough is the part that would really, it rals me up a bit because [00:24:00] I think about the parallel between digital equity, racial equity and gender equity. And take your pick if there's any other equities I did miss or that I missed and in no way would you settle for good enough on any of those either. I absolutely wouldn't. And it is February, so I know I wouldn't other people in February. Yeah, it's February.

What You're going to cut every half. It's already already nevermind. But the point is, [00:24:30] the point is I would settle for this and I think that when we are looking at this, it's not let's let's PPO on the momentum that we have, but rather it's a question that we have to ask ourselves, do we deserve more? And if the answer is a resounding yes and we know we do well, now we have an obligation to pushing more pushing. Yes, it's the people at the state level, it's people in this room, it's people who are respected, people who are esteem. You got to push everybody and when that doesn't happen, [00:25:00] what it looks like to people on the outside looking in is we are a unified group who is crying over ACP ending and that's what optically it looks like, but it doesn't look like a group that's actually demanding long-term solutions on the ground and who's not afraid to call out a provider for digitally redlining a community or is not afraid to say to the FCC, Hey look, your digital redlining stuff doesn't have any restorative justice components to it.

[00:25:30] There is nothing about this that looks at the past. It's your redlining. All it is is a very current thing. We can say those things and it's okay. It is required for us to do that and I think that we're missing the requirements of just basic equity and standing up and calling people out and as a result of this we then get lowercase italicized equity and for anyone else who's looking at this for the all caps equity, they're like, this is incongruent. Why are we using the word equity?

Christopher Mitchell (00:25:56):
I want to frank all nice. [00:26:00] I want to bring with a related comment building off of that, which is I will defend all day long that Comcast is the best of the big monopoly national companies. The digital equity Comcast has hired people who feel in the core that they want to use some of the power that Comcast has to connect people.

Comcast Internet essentials have done more than all the other big companies combined. Comcast has also made sure that thousands of people in Chattanooga are not connected. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands around Chattanooga [00:26:30] have vs seller satellite because Chattanooga is a municipal network and Comcast doesn't want to see that expand the areas where Comcast is not interested in serving. And so we're going to be a little critical of Comcast, but I also just want to know it is complicated and I don't wind up Comcast and the sponsor, but I also want to be clear and calling 'em out that in Chattanooga, I want you to explain this and then go into whatever you wanted, but Comcast is literally sitting at the state preventing PB from connecting people both in the city and the county and outside [00:27:00] of the county

Dan Ryan (00:27:01):
because if you anyone know who Senator Marshall Blackburn is, does anyone know that she got their senate seat because Comcast paid for it because she carried their water in the state legislature. She got EPB's footprint. That's our local ISP locked at where it marched and it can never expand. We have counties all around us. Yeah, counties all around us asking to come to service here. We are not allowed to. We can expand [00:27:30] inside their footprint where there are gaps.

Earlier today when you were doing your panel sign the check for 18 grand to Verizon for hotspots this month because we have 700 families that are on Verizon hotspots who live in the middle of Chattanooga, Hamilton County in an area EPB is not allowed to serve and can't run do lines to because of all this politics. So [00:28:00] we have very different takes on Comcast. I mark them off of my badge. The analogy that popped in my head a couple of days ago thinking about this very topic with them being this sponsor of conference that they weren't before moved to Philadelphia.

It's like asking a rattlesnake that bit you to provide your emergency care. Now we can extract the minimum of another rattlesnake to solve the problem, but the snakes are not trained or qualifying [00:28:30] or able to save us. It is against their interest. They will just keep biting you while you sit there. So take the money from Comcast when they want to give it, but do understand that their digital equity budget is net negative, right? We were talking about numbers before this today, 2.75 billion got thrown around a lot yesterday. That is six weeks profit for Comcast. It's three weeks. When you add charter into the mix, that's profit. [00:29:00] They also spent what, 25 billion on lobbying.

Shayna Englin (00:29:03):
Oh, 164 in 2023 at the federal,

Dan Ryan (00:29:07):
Federal lobbying was 164 billion, million million, right? That's not in their profit statement. That's a business expense. So they're not paying taxes on the money they're using to fight our programs. It's just a circle and it's why we have to get real power to take the systems [00:29:30] on and try to change the systems. I've been doing this in Chattanooga. I've lived there for 25 years. I've been working on this pretty for about a dozen and it's just been eyeopening every day. And I love the work we do. We get to see all the people we work with and you get to hear these impacts. That's where it's going to happen. It's not going to happen from the top down. They have no incentive to fix this problem. We have to stand up for ourselves and organize and stand together and fix it.

Melanie Silva (00:30:00):
[00:30:00] I would just add that recognizing that these systems are in place because they were built to be here just like this and dismantling them is something that can only happen from the inside, only us, only the people in this room and people like us because we're in them and we understand how to navigate them. And so [00:30:30] this comes up a lot of times when we go to corporations, into organizations talking about creating a culture of belonging and we run into systems that are in place for reason and a lot of times those systems that are in place for the reason was because a lot of the boomers coming out of management MBA school we're trained and taught to not engage with employees as people don't ask [00:31:00] what your race, who you are, what your story is. We don't hear that, right? But now the workplace requires it. The Gen Z that are up and coming that are soon going to be the managers and the leaders of organizations why we have ESG programs in Comcast and Verizon and these companies because they have to recruit and retain workers. They're saying this has to be here [00:31:30] or we won't work here, so it's only going to grow as the generation shifts and leaders shift and we identify these systems that are in place that are now broken and we redo them.

Christopher Mitchell (00:31:48):
I want to, before we go on to talking a little bit more about what political power might look like and how to achieve it, I do want to make sure that Dan and Valerie in particular have a chance. God, [00:32:00] I knew I was going to do that. Melanie,

Melanie Silva (00:32:01):
It's Jeff

Christopher Mitchell (00:32:06):
Having a chance to talk about something that I think everyone should know, which is just to be clear, how welcoming is Chattanooga for people who don't identify as straight?

Melanie Silva (00:32:21):
Are you straight, Dan?

Dan Ryan (00:32:23):
Oh God, no. No.

Melanie Silva (00:32:26):
Yeah, me neither. I feel

Christopher Mitchell (00:32:27):
Like I would put that there because I feel like the reputation [00:32:30] of Chattanooga is besmirched and I want to give you a chance as people who love it and live there to say a word about it. Go ahead.

Dan Ryan (00:32:38):
Yeah, that was nice. It's complicated. I am a big outdoor person. I love hiking and cycling all that. And when I'm in the city of Chattanooga, I'm pretty okay. I don't worry too much. I have had deputy sheriff put his hand on his gun when I pulled out a pride debit [00:33:00] card to pay in a gas station in rural Tennessee when I was hiking, never said a word, just looked at me, put his hand on his gun. I'm probably not alone in that kind of vibe in this room, right?

I'm never not thinking about it. And that is the thing that not everyone has to deal with. I had to ask a lawyer last year, I have painted toenails. Is that a drag show? If there's kids on the sidewalk, am I going to jail? And they had to tell me, we don't know. Do you want to be the one who finds out [00:33:30] in court? And I absolutely did not. Right? I don't want to be all Fox News anymore. Anybody else does. It sucks. So nowhere is safe for queer people and trans people. There are places that are safer. I don't know that Philadelphia is safer. The Chattanooga, I'm not qualified to say so I'll say that. And I do think lumping all of us together by what [00:34:00] gerrymandered minority government did to us in Tennessee, it wasn't thrown out by the courts and has never been enforced.

We could have used all your help down south and instead you're here. Need help here too. We all got to be this all together. You talked about being in the south, and I think a lot of times the south just gets written off. It's like it's Unsavable, CDC d's latest census on [00:34:30] queer population is we are the south is the most dense queer population in the country. 16%, which is roughly 16 million people are queer in the south, that is bigger than the northeast, that is bigger than the west coast per capita, your Honor is riding off a few people in the mountains. You're riding off millions and millions of people who need help and need these programs. So I think that's probably enough on that one. Fred?

Melanie Silva (00:34:59):
Yeah, [00:35:00] Fred. Mostly I get Melinda or Melissa, so this is kind of nice.

I remember taking a sea trip to West Virginia and I look the way I look on purpose. I want to make sure that I am very clearly a queer person. It's not something that I hide or that I am ashamed of, but I remember we were on the ski trip and I am covered up in [00:35:30] clothes of cold and I thought if something happens and I have to be rescued, like are they going to me? Yeah, I am not. And I think I say all that to say because again, it's recognizing that we are being polarized in our lives, in our news consumption, [00:36:00] in our churches, in our community groups.

There are so many facets of our lives that are 99.9% the same. We are the same. And yet we categorize things because it's human nature and it's how we assess threats and how we survived as humans. But we are activated by fear and we are polarized and we [00:36:30] have to figure out how we can just appreciate each other for who we are. And the south feels a little further behind than the rest of the country having lived at born and raised in Hawaii grew up multicultural, exposed to so many different cultures and people and the south is different and we choose to be there. We recognize that it's a choice for us to live there and [00:37:00] it's always during election season when I really get angry because that's when my rights are potentially being taken from me by a polarized group of people that I love that just don't know that this is happening to them. They don't know that they're being separated instead of being pulled together. And so each of us could just approach conversations [00:37:30] with curiosity and ask questions and come together instead of being a part of this system that is putting us farther apart. We can do a lot, just all of us each

Christopher Mitchell (00:37:45):
And since Liam's not up there, Melanie Silva, I want to talk about political power at different levels because I feel like to some extent we're like, we need political power. Yeah, yeah. Where do we get that? Alright, well, we need different kinds of political power to achieve [00:38:00] different kinds of things along the way to achieving our shared goals. So I don't know who wants to jump in, but let's talk about different political power at different levels to achieve our shared goals. So I'm going to move this back a little bit for you.

Joshua Edmonds (00:38:19):
Yeah, thank you. So it is interesting. When I first moved to Detroit, that was January, 2019, so obviously before the pandemic [00:38:30] and at that time, director of digital equity and inclusion for the city of Detroit and digital inclusion in the way that it is now because there wasn't a pandemic. And so when I went in, people thought I was the director of diversity and inclusion, which I'm like, huh, no, no I'm not.

And it's interesting because when you're going in to a city government and even the people within the city, the mayor, they didn't understand [00:39:00] that stuff either. And so you're going in, people don't understand, not validated. I wasn't from Detroit, so no one knew me. So it's like what are you going to do? What type of political power, if any, are you going to be able to wield? In that case, you had to start grassroots because at that point I could show a unified constituency which would then influence the municipal government specifically. You would be able to influence the council layer, which would then allow the mayor to then be [00:39:30] supportive of whatever I did. And so that was the strategy at the onset, get validation as much as possible from the grassroots. Then over time, in order to do the fundraising that was necessary. Again, we didn't have arpa, we didn't have infrastructure jobs, I didn't have any of that stuff.

So all the maybe OG digital equity practitioners, you were fundraisers. That was your job to fundraise. And so we had to do a lot of fundraising and at that time it was grass tops. And one of the things that [00:40:00] I was able to do was just, I'll be honest, people might've remembered, but I was calling out a lot of the federal leaders at that time because in calling them out one, I felt like that was necessary to call them out. But as a result of us calling them out, they would oftentimes either book trips to Detroit directly, which then led to external validation, which then were they able to start the connection point between the grassroots and the grass tops. What that then resulted in [00:40:30] was a clear pathway from the resident who maybe I went to their church and I spoke or whatever. Maybe they were coming to some of our neighborhood technology hubs or whatever we were doing.

So we were able to go from the grassroots, whatever the complaints were, then cycling through council, through the mayor's office, through our state, and then all the way at the federal level. We kept doing that over and over and over again. As a result, you had a machine and that machine allowed you whether you needed additional fundraising, additional support [00:41:00] or additional storytelling, or if you wanted to hold someone accountable, you then were able to then fully punch with all of your might as a municipal government. The time when that mattered the most was when we switched from being, I would say even by my own admission, the italicized digital equity to the all caps digital equity when there was a 45 day Internet outage in Detroit and they Hope Village neighborhood by at and t and for 45 days, those residents didn't have Internet, they didn't have voice [00:41:30] and it got brought to, and that's when we said, our infrastructure's unstable, and since the providers, we can't trust you because when we did trust you, this is what happened.

We believe it is in the interest of the municipality to serve our people best. And so as a result, we did that. And then that's when all those political relationships matter the most because the tactics that they use was they began attacking everything that they could. They went at my credibility, [00:42:00] they went at our office's credibility, and even people that had working for Detroit at the time, they went in many ways as possible. Whenever we were doing an acuity event, somehow a hit piece would come out that same day, that same morning whenever we were doing any type of outreach or engagement, somehow there would be some type of messaging that would go out. It was just very, very methodical. But at the same time, what I was able to see at that moment was the grassroots organizing could counteract the tops media [00:42:30] campaigns that they run.

And so those same stories over and over and over again, once you have that full political spectrum built out, once you have that machine built out, you're essentially protected and you've got to do the work to ensuring that it stays intact, that you got to keep people engaged, keep people organized, but every single one of those layers, we couldn't do it without one of those missing. And so as a result of that, we were able to survive enough. There's additional tactics that we did, but again, we had to rely on every layer and level of government all the way down to the non-governmental [00:43:00] actors like a voter or even a non voter who are still within the political atmosphere. And everyone played a role and you couldn't discount anybody because if you did, it came down to a game of inches and the inch that we lost was essentially what killed a project.

And so that would just be the thing that from my experience working in municipal government, that you need every single one because that's going to protect your interest as well. A lot of these people do not have the ability to stand alone. And we all know this, when you all go back to your respective geographies, digital equity, you're still on an island. [00:43:30] You might have a coalition, but if you're a decision maker, you're one of five who's actually making decisions. Everybody else is working with you, but it's you in there. And so as a result of that, you got to make sure that whatever you're building, you have people who are around you can actually protect you because if not, it will fall apart. And these providers or anyone who's lobbying against you will start picking you all and they will ruin your credibility or at least they'll attempt to. And that's exactly what we saw happening in Detroit that was pre [00:44:00] all encompassing

Shayna Englin (00:44:03):
And terrifying, plus a thousand to all of that. I'll speak on personal experience, and we had talked about this before. The moment you step out of your lane of inclusion and literacy and devices basically, and they love it when we fight for ACP, as soon as you step out of those lanes, it gets dark. And [00:44:30] I'll tell you that my own personal history has come back at me from elected officials that charter lobbyists have been in touch with. I will tell you that people in my family, their jobs have been threatened because they were for organizations that are partly funded by some of these ISPs, it does get very dark. And the reason that that is, okay, first of all, I have on my pit of bottomless range, and so it fuels me, but [00:45:00] mostly, and because my skin is this color and I look like this.

And so I have also a well privileged to be able to fight back at that, and I'm very clear on that. But truly it's because we have built this cross-sectoral cross geography of very and a coalition. I think you have capital all capitals equity. We also have all capitals and lowercase italicized light gray Font Coalition to light 35. [00:45:30] Yes. And what we have is big, bold, all caps coalition that we have each other's backs and we have built that power and that trust and that actual organizing relationship to do that. And there's someone in the memo, I'm not going to call her name, but she should actually probably be sitting up here instead of me. That entire coalition has actually come under threat, but has done the same thing and has built that strong kind of base. So yes to all of that. [00:46:00] And then I would also just say, and again, this probably ages me, but we should all go back and read Solomon's these 10 rules.

It's real here, right? Find ways that you can win together, however big or small, because winning begets winning, and when it looks like power, it is power. And so really kind of building around that. So I identify what are the structures that you need? So whether it's council [00:46:30] or mayor's office, or in our case some like the Department of Water and Power or the legislature or the governor's office or the Public Utilities Commission and figure out, okay, if this is where we need different decisions to be made, what do they care about? What influences them? What do they consider power? And how do we get into those spaces? And then would also just say that no power is too small. I mean, we talked about Marsha Blackburn, but here's [00:47:00] the other thing that we know, and I can't remember the latest statistic, but the percentages of people who are in Congress that were in state legislatures that before that were in council or school board is astonishing. Almost nobody first runs for Congress or Senate. Some people do, but almost nobody does. And so the person who is your freshman city council member who maybe has no power right now is somewhat likely to [00:47:30] be you're the Congress person or agency head or something moving forward. So it's never too soon to indicate to them that you can fuck them up if you have to.

We some light, but you will cut a bitch.

Christopher Mitchell (00:47:49):

CCF is a unique entity in having the ability to make sure that groups that are stepping into digital equity, stepping up on digital equity [00:48:00] have some capacity to do it. I like to say a word about that, but also can you give any examples of where groups haven't had that same level of support and have been able to build a coalition?

Shayna Englin (00:48:10):
Sure. So the California Community Foundation, that's the digital equity initiative that I run started as a three year project is now a five year project. And yeah, I'm extremely lucky in that CCF is a systems change foundation. Obviously funds, direct services work and things like that, [00:48:30] but does so entirely through a lens of systems change and has both in our former president and CEO was a civil rights attorney and had been at CCF for 20 years, but before that was at maldef, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. So had this kind of political and power lens already. And then our newest CEO president, CEO kind of has the same, and our board has situated that, all of that kind stuff. So we actually have the political [00:49:00] lens and have the independence to be able to operate in this space and a very clear eyed focus on systems change.

And so I'm able to run a grant program and have been now raising additional money so we can continue to do that without having to be compromised by ISP funding and allow some of our grantees to stop being compromised by our reliance on ISP funding to be able to do that. And part of our mission is to also situate this coalition [00:49:30] for ongoing sustainability in that way. And then in terms of some of the other groups around the state and elsewhere that we have supported, I guess I'll call it kind of technical assistance and building in this way that haven't had that. Again, there's other folks in the room if they give you the high sign, I'll point you to them who I think have a ton of really direct experience on this, but it has been, it's just [00:50:00] a different kind of slog. So it's in the same way that our coalition and where our focus has been has been not actually to identify digital equity or digital inclusion organizations and trying to convince them to do political work, although there's been a little bit of that, it's been more finding the organizations that already do that.

So what are the organizations that are already working in health justice or climate justice or housing justice? That's been a big one. Obviously [00:50:30] education justice, but who are the organizations that already have a political lens that already do power building and that have also through lived experience, a very real understanding of how digital equity gets in the way of their mission and digital inequity gets in the way of their mission. And so to kind of build that together. And so they come with kind of a base of sustainability because they get funded to do their education work, to do their healthcare work, et cetera. And then ISPs don't usually care [00:51:00] about that unless you're also doing ACPs or something like that. So it's been kind of a strategic finding where there is sustainability already around power, political power.

Melanie Silva (00:51:16):
The thing that comes to mind for me is you had talked about digital equity used to be getting people online and then it was getting people online with devices, and now it's getting [00:51:30] people online with devices and skills, training and resources. Dan and I were talking earlier about what if that's a circle and we are getting people online with devices, with skills training and then connect it back into their community. Are we registering them to vote? Are we providing them with nonpartisan civic engagement and education? Chattanooga has a platform called Chatham Matters where you can learn about your city council and how it works, [00:52:00] and it's just an email engagement or other forms, email, TikTok, YouTube, they use the TikTok. That's a good, I've never seen it too old.

The community component is part of this, and that's how we are going to get to sustainable long-term change is getting plugged back into our communities through technology. [00:52:30] And so also thinking through this, we've talked about organizing a good bit. How can we build digital equity into things like community benefits agreements where we're building out infrastructure in municipalities and states that if we're going to build Chad affairs in the process of potentially building a new minor league baseball stadium [00:53:00] and massive construction along with that, but it's in right borders up against a neighborhood that might all get pushed out from this development. But Mike, yeah, Mike. But there's a grassroots community organizing organization that's stepping in and saying, Hey, we're going to need to set up a community benefits agreement with this neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhoods to make sure [00:53:30] that these people are going to be served by this investment. This is not going to just be a top down decision that affects all of these communities. So how can we build digital equity into these processes, into these community engagements that whether they have it or not, whether they might or not. But anything you want to add?

Dan Ryan (00:53:52):
I totally agree. I mean, having those CBAs in place is super important and we try as much as we can have other issues [00:54:00] with building an understate the chat, I guess it's unrelated to this conversation, but we've all been nibbling around this thing. I think I just want to say it clearly. Digital equity isn't the end game. Justice liberation's the end game, and this is part of the path. And so it takes all of this stuff. And the thing I just think about all the time is we can't win this fight if black organizers aren't winning their fight. If queer organizers aren't winning their fight, we got to have each other's backs and work together. And one of the things you've talked about [00:54:30] a lot as we prep for this panel is part of why we want everybody connected is connected. That means they can organize.

And particularly in the trans community, it's such a small group of people, they're not often geographically close. And having that online connection to find support and find help is critical healthcare, mental healthcare, just community at all. And I'm in a discord chat with a bunch of people for a mutual aid [00:55:00] store in Chattanooga. A couple of weeks ago, this mom popped in, was like, my daughter just told me that she's trans and I'm super excited, but super nervous. And three other moms of trans kids jumped in and talked to her through it, and it's like they will never meet in real life, but she all instantly had community because they were in there organizing around economic justice. And when she needed help, she got it. It was just awesome to just sit back and watch that conversation happen [00:55:30] and like, oh no, she's going to be great.

Let stick this talk to her and this is what it's going to be like and call if you need help. And if we didn't do this work to have these connections for these people, that wouldn't have happened. And there's another scared mom with another scared kid and trained outcomes often are suicide. So just seeing that maybe there's an off ramp here for this kid that's happy is awesome. That's why we're doing this work. And it gets so easy to get bogged down in a fight to forget to look [00:56:00] at the chimneys on top of the buildings and see where we're headed.

Christopher Mitchell (00:56:03):
Yeah, an example that I think about is a moment when I was thinking about as I'm required to do it by some funders. What does it look like to really win? And I was thinking, well, how do we make sure everyone has high quality Internet access?

Well, not going to happen if people are living in a campus where they're moving around constantly. It looks a housing solution. There's a school district right by my house. 33% [00:56:30] of the kids don't have stable housing throughout the entire year. They're on housed for part of the year. And my son went to that school for a year, and it's one of the worst schools in Minnesota, which is still pretty good. And the teachers were amazing. Resources were amazing. And it struck me most of the discussion about school policy I learned is not about how we fix the schools, it's about all the stuff outside of the schools that's causing the problems. And so it's similarly broadband where I'm trying not [00:57:00] to be too focused on that. And my crying, I'm struggling with postnasal drip, sir.

Anyway, just the fact that these are related and I want to ask for questions in a second. I'm giving you a warning. I've got a great question to come back if no one has one. But I do want to ask Dan in particular, and I'm sure if anyone else has an answer, I sometimes fear that the discussions about how these things are intersectional leads to a paralysis where we're like, well, we can't [00:57:30] do anything unless we're doing everything. So how do we wrestle with that?

Dan Ryan (00:57:34):
Absolutely. But the key is just coal filling a partnership building. We don't need to do everything. We are doing the thing we're good at. I am a software developer by trade. I ran Obama's reelect web team in 2012. That's kind of what got me a little bit in notoriety in this space and got me a voice in a room. That's where I can lend my voice. I don't understand housing justice enough to go be in that room, but I [00:58:00] know that they need some of what we do, and we need their networks. So yeah, don't get paralyzed. Understand that we're not going to solve it all, and you can't solve it all. That's a really close place to be mentally anyway. It's only going to happen in community in tandem. And then everyone does the work they're good at. And hopefully that's the idea.

Melanie Silva (00:58:21):
And we see this a lot in the workplace where you have larger organizations with employee resource groups that are all focused on early group professionals or [00:58:30] queer, black, Latinx, whatever dimension of diversity that feels like they need that extra support to feel like they belong at your organization. A lot of them can feel overwhelmed with some of the programming that they want to do or all the things they want to talk about or all the things they want to implement and work with HR on. And if they can just rely on each other, the leaders of those groups and work together and share planning and share certain responsibilities, [00:59:00] they're able to do so much more when they work together. So I agree, Dan. I think it's partnerships in what we're talking about and having those people that have your back having a similar shared fight or shared experience in the space.

Christopher Mitchell (00:59:18):
Questions. Whoa, man, You all got to keep it quick.

Audience (00:59:26):
So I have a question about kind of question and statement. One partner [00:59:30] that I haven't heard mentioned at all that could be a huge boom to building political power historically has been us, is labor. And now I understand, oh, there's a two way street here. Labor has to reach out and be part of that conversation as well. I'm here for an employer, I won't name because the tenor of this conversation, but I'm also a labor organizer. So if you guys found any partners in that realm, C-W-A-I-D-W-I. I'm a Midwest going to I know knows. Yeah. I'm adding hard one. Yeah. [01:00:00] So yeah. Have you found any partners? Have you started building those relationships?

Shayna Englin (01:00:07):
C-W-A-S-E-I-U and IBEW three. There's obviously complicated politics between and amongst 'em, and so it's been sort of interesting to navigate that. But yes, in different spaces and different times where we've been able to stay in the middle of that a little bit or in some cases even help be a place where some bridge building can happen. [01:00:30] It's been incredible. And I would say the other place that that's been useful has been informally where it's like, wow, the local hasn't taken a position on this and there's a bunch of other leadership things going on and whatever else. But you know what? We are going in and looking at these cabinets in all these buildings that unnamed companies claiming is totally assertive with upgrading technology. I'm like, while we're in there we'll shoot you [01:01:00] a quick picture. And it's been stuff like that that's been incredibly valuable.

Audience (01:01:08):
Hey, going to buy around and thank you so much. It's such an important and needed conversation. I just wanted to name something which is like it's great for us to all get together and be in unity, but conflict is part of that. I want to mention Hannah Saman, who many of you know, who's an amazing organizer [01:01:30] and has been leaning into what conflict means and what happens when there's conflict at the grassroots between the grassroots new municipal levels. And I want to just name in Tennessee, there's the Southern Connected Communities Project, which is the mountains, and they don't have the political power that Chad Muca has. The access to Detroit, the Digital Justice Coalition, going way back with the principles of access participation, common ownership [01:02:00] in healthy communities, both mesh networks and even five, three parts of the city, either trailblazers and they're working at a very small scale, relatively. So in between these our layers, they're misaligned incentives. So how do we acknowledge that and lean into conflict so that we can unify?

Joshua Edmonds (01:02:23):
Great question. Yeah, I think it's great to [01:02:30] call out the conflicts too because yes, harmony, or rather to say consensus is the hardest thing to reach in any equation. Sometimes I'll do this little exercise where I ask people, do this pineapple belong on pizza? And overwhelmingly it does, but people somehow, somehow find ways to disagree with that. And the point is, relook at this, I think that there's always room [01:03:00] to grow. I would say that anyone who's doing this work at a community level, it requires a significant degree of introspection. And oftentimes I can reminisce on the times when I didn't do things the right way either that I didn't print things and it's those sour thoughts are like, God dang it. And you'll look back on that. And I think that there's a simultaneous kind of back and forth that has to happen where [01:03:30] it's like, look, we have to move forward, we have to move forward that we cannot be paralyzed. But at the same time, it does require a persistent and a consistent acknowledgement when expectations are misaligned. And sometimes that's not as sexy to do when you are invigorated by a vision, when you see a fight in front of you and you're going to get, oh yeah, well for me at least, I mean my ears get hot and I'm like, oh yeah, we're ready to fight.

And people are [01:04:00] like, well, hold on. Hey. And it's worth acknowledging the hold ons and the haes too. And I think that sometimes when you get these, again, these very visionary things that you be like, okay, we're ready. Some of those times it gets lost. And I think that's a part of the requirement and it requires us, even when you know what you're doing, you're supposed to be doing, you're feeling that that's purpose driven. It still does require you to bring as many people, if not everybody with you. And oftentimes I [01:04:30] can look at ways that I didn't do that and that's just more of an acknowledgement. I would say that for everybody doing this, if you are all going to go to the grassroots, it does matter that you do have to honor the sentiment. You have to honor the trailblazers people who are doing that work before you do, no matter the scale, you have to honor that. But at the same time, if you have that vision, you have to move forward with that too. And that's a two-way process and that's going to happen consistently and persistently to do it. Right.

Christopher Mitchell (01:04:57):
Do you remember the essay that she shared? The [01:05:00] shares? Yeah, I was trying to remember. Well maybe if she can dig it out and get it to me announce the end of this session. Also, I would just say that I think this is a good time to just plug, I'm going to take a question over here.

The first Ill ask again, I'll think about a book or a reading recommendation at the end. Also, God, you don't have to homework reading must book. Right. I'm not even excited about [01:05:30] homework until Thank you for it.

Audience (01:05:31):
Thank you for being here in this panel for this session. This is awesome. My question really is honing in on the differences in our communities. I represent as a public official, the city of Austin, Texas, and I'm approaching in my term and being able to do things I couldn't do within government while maintaining diplomacy that I have for the past eight years. So I'm excited, but I still have to maintain that diplomacy to [01:06:00] continue to build off of the bridges that I've established, establishing and established. So when I think about your success, where in the state of Texas there's certain things that we can't do unless we can somehow take on the state legislature and that's not likely for the foreseeable future. So I'd like for you to be candid if you all can about how you work within dynamics that aren't so friendly to labor, for example, and in spaces where [01:06:30] frankly equity as a word is a boogeyman that we have to navigate around artfully but are willing to, right? I don't want to fall into the pitfalls culture war At the same time, I do think it's important to acknowledge history. I mean there were so many things you guys said that I wanted to speak to, but obviously there and share the time.

Joshua Edmonds (01:06:55):
Alright, well [01:07:00] from the municipal perspective, when I look at it, you have, you said eight years. Eight years of equity, eight years of equity. The equivalent is you've been born to the arcade to play that game this whole time and there's that laser pointer and you can finally get that laser pointer with all the tickets that you've accumulated over all the years. That's the prize already. So it's like you have that. I think it is more of, I did the same thing so to speak. So when I was in Detroit first year, I couldn't do that second year, [01:07:30] I can do that third year can do. But it got to a point where I'm like, okay, now it's time when you know there's a certain fight that is, now there's this, if it's not abundantly clear today, there is a way to do it. And again, this is leaning more so into the organizing principles, which is like, okay, I don't need to be Superman, I don't need to be, now I can be the Cape, I can be s, I can be something, but I don't need to be the center.

[01:08:00] And so the thing is you don't have to take on unnecessary risk, but at the same time you can use equity that you build up and the credibility that you have to co-sign something. That could also be the difference maker too. It's like what is the big picture in Austin? What are the organizers saying? What's something that it's like, Hey, we could do, so it's like reverse engineering. If I know that I want to change the state statute over time, it's like, all right, look, I don't have the ability to do that now. Great. What are those incremental [01:08:30] changes that could get us there and how do I use the current inertia over the ACP freeze to accelerate that? So it's like everything that's happening now use everything that we have that's at our disposal. So if I know that this ACP freeze is a thing and everybody's suffering from this and this is so bad, great, I mean not great, but for real great because now all of a sudden my equity and credibility plus the moment plus this other group over here that we don't know, but that once we get acclimated to that could [01:09:00] be the thing where you're able to then write out and say, alright, I did all this and that thing that y'all got going, yeah, that was me.

And then you get to bow it or do whatever you want to do. But it's like you don't have to take the biggest risk today. It's more so looking at whatever you can wager and whatever's already happening, juxtaposed with what we already know the ACP stuff represents and using the power of that moment. Because next year's time, this ACP fight, we can't even use that card anymore. It kind of expires next year [01:09:30] and if someone disagrees, fine, but now's the time to use that, especially with the freeze being last week.

Dan Ryan (01:09:41):
I just throw in there too real quick, big plans and big dreams are awesome because one day they're going to happen. The growth we've had at Enterprise Center in our work, we planned for a decade and then covid happened and everybody's like, oh, well we're here with money. We've only been asking for 10 years, it's fine. [01:10:00] Could we have done that work sooner and help people sooner? Yes. But the thing is we're doing it now. We're doing it at a scale that's so much bigger than we could have even imagined five years ago because we have those read and those plans that already it's not futile to think about it better. Right. I agree. Use that equity before you leave. Cheers, thank you. Chapter four verse, not folks,

Shayna Englin (01:10:23):
The one does, the one thing I'll add is we sort of have gotten into it but skirted around a little bit is [01:10:30] in addition to enjoying picking fights with charter AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, I genuinely do. I would also say it's strategic, right? You don't always have to be picking fights with people who you need with you. And so part of the thing about picking a fight with a multinational billions profits dollar company is that there's not a lot of appetite to come [01:11:00] to their defense. And so using some of those, picking some of those fights really strategically with maybe the entity that isn't actually the there, but you make them the opponent and that creates some space to do some other things. So this is where as a coalition, we focused a ton on pricing disparities, and this is partly where we're really using the opportunity around digital discrimination, which I know Chris likes to fight with me about base [01:11:30] to which that's going to be useful and we can totally fight about that. But just as a mechanism, as a strategy, it's really useful.

Christopher Mitchell (01:11:42):
So this is one thing I just want to say about that is I feel like if you're in an area where you're dealing with loyal opposition or honest opposition where someone actually disagrees with you and they're honest person as opposed to a lot of the stuff that we see now from elected officials, particularly at the national level where they're just [01:12:00] saying anything that's convenient, if you have someone that you think is opposed to you, but honest, start making some predictions. And so ACP, we're going to spend all this money and at the end of it, the money's going to get cut off and we're not going to be in a better place because it's not systemic change. Los Angeles stopped spending that a hundred million dollars, those kids don't have access anymore. We haven't made an investment that leads to an ongoing change. And so you can make that prediction and say, look, I want to come back to you next year. I'm going to remind you I'm saying this. [01:12:30] This is what's going to happen. They might start to listen to you a little bit more and recognize the dangers of just throwing more and more money at it. So that's something that we've tried to do in different circumstances.

Oh, you got the book title? Okay, I'll come back to you at the end. I want to ask a question that we still have time for questions after this, but I do want to make sure that we, Joshua, I don't know if you just came up with this or not, but this question of project management or project, sorry, problem management [01:13:00] or problem eradication. I want to lead this into a quick session talking about what we should be doing upstairs. So the Coupa people, I think all of them, if you ask them, do you want to solve this problem or do you want to keep working on this problem the rest of your life? They would say they want to solve the problem, but I think many of us feel that we're not on a path to solving it, that we are managing it rather than trying to eradicate it. And so this is something that each of you could go on for a long time, but some quick thoughts about that.

Joshua Edmonds (01:13:30):
[01:13:30] Oh, come on. So yes, it's true. It's true. I did say that earlier today and I think that it is worth noting that this, it couldn't happen at a better time. So upstairs, we got to visit SR'S desk, they have this puzzle and this is the most confusing puzzle in the world we're try and put together, I don't care. Yes, I'm colorblind. And that could be making the degree of difficulty way higher, but it doesn't make sense. But the reason why I'm highlighting that puzzle [01:14:00] upstairs is because better put, there's me who is working my eyes to the point that I can't even, it's blurring to try and fix this thing. And maybe ILSR is happy that puzzle's all the way put together, it keeps people at the table longer. And there is a really, really sly way that I am saying this.

So if you read between the lines, there's three metaphors within that. But the point that I would say, I think that [01:14:30] it's not a matter of finger wagging and saying, well, why aren't you on problem eradication? Because that almost has a ting of arrogance to it. I think that it's more of an opportunity to look at maybe some of how do you get more of the practitioners who have legitimate scars and putting them on those main stages because you're going to get a very different experience from those people. They're going to tell you what's real. You're going to get the wisdom from them. So while you have [01:15:00] other people who might be newer to this, that's not to say they don't deserve to be in that stage. I think everyone's story should be heard. But I think that it is really how did you get to this problem eradication standpoint?

It's because you had people who started maybe on the problem management side, who were doing the hotspots, who were doing the tech support, who were doing those things, who quickly realized that's like, man, I've been in this for a few years now. This isn't, these numbers aren't really changing. I need to go deeper. There's a reason why even through my own growth [01:15:30] there, I mean my first NDIA conference was what, 2016 And after over time I went from maybe that more nonprofit side to now the enterprise infrastructure side to say, no, if you're not talking infrastructure, what are you talking about? And that's where I've gotten to because of all those experiences that I've had that led me to that point. So I think that it's really a unique opportunity to say to maybe the organizers or the people upstairs. Alright, so was your scars.

Everyone told me your cool broadband scar. [01:16:00] What about that time when you released that? And then maybe it didn't work out, but you got stabbed and you got a cool scar. Alright, show us that. Jason's in the crowd now. I know Jason, Jason's got a nice scar right here in the back. But it's like those are those things where I think that that's a real unique opportunity for us to talk more about that. And I think in that, that's letting wisdom guide the discussion versus what camp are you in a secret handshake? Alright, no, get 'em out of here. No. Let's actually let wisdom guide the discussion based on our experiences [01:16:30] that would then transform our understanding in ways when it's done in love and it's done in understanding, I think we will then walk out with a more unified approach to what I do believe is the necessary outcome, which is eradicating the digital divide and everybody who's employed off the digital divide, all of us being unemployed,

Shayna Englin (01:16:51):
I'll just say quickly, I think it's about kind of a genuine curiosity and asking those questions. So to me, and this is where I [01:17:00] land and I'll just continue to pick on ACP, but I think there's lots of them, which is the genuine honest question there is, let's say that through some miracle, it turns out there's actually more power behind this than we think. Or that the ISPs actually really are going to push for this rather than their giant tax break that they're probably going to win instead. And we get them 7 billion to fund an ACP through the end of the year then, right? So [01:17:30] have we eradicated anything? No. Have we maybe solved a little bit of suffering for a while? Yes. I'm like, that's good, but then what? And so I think moving along that path from management to your eradication, releasing out of my own growth and my conversations with folks has been around asking some of those and then what questions with honesty and curiosity, but also a certain level of harshness.

Melanie Silva (01:18:00):
[01:18:00] And I think it requires you to give up some of your power.

And that can be scary, right? Because it makes you feel safe, it makes you feel a certain way and to not have it can be uncertain and you may not want to leave that lane that you're in, right? I'm involved in it in a project [01:18:30] in Chattanooga that's taking a foundation model, a traditional philanthropy model and decentralizing it and taking 20 community leaders and they decide where millions of dollars goes in the community, not the family that owns the foundation, that half of which live in California, not them, us. We are going to create the framework. We're going to change the system, we're going to change how it works. And they're [01:19:00] saying we want the community to have the power. And you know what? When the community has the power to make the decisions, the decisions come out really differently. And we're seeing that already in this process where, okay, it's not making investments from the top down for people.

We are all in intertwined in the community [01:19:30] and figuring out what do we want as what leaders in the community. So another way of just thinking about, okay, how do we power share? How do we put this in the hands of the people that are doing the things and know the people and know what they want? And if we can figure that out, even just in our own boards, in our own roles, in our families, in our lives, and then bring that to all of our spaces, [01:20:00] we'll be able to feel this to a much larger degree and it'll move quicker. We were talking earlier, people are afraid of sudden change of abrupt change, but they're not afraid of incremental change. And I know it takes longer and it requires more patience and it can be a pain in the ass, but that incremental change is going to get us where we want to go. Barring another pandemic that speeds things along very quickly.

Dan Ryan (01:20:26):
No, hopefully not. [01:20:30] Just a couple of things that bounce into my mind. This is my first time at NDIA. I have learned more out of people getting three minutes on stage than people giving 30. And I keep saying, why aren't they getting half an hour this morning? Particularly every one of those people should have had as much time as Verizon did.

Equity Washing is the term we're going to start talking about for this one. [01:21:00] And maybe that needs to be a bigger space so there's more breakouts so that we can have more opportunities like that. It doesn't have to be main stage, but we talked about this earlier, lighting talks are awesome. I love that they have them and those happening. There are some things that should be quick like that and go, not everything needs to be a 90 minute panel, but too many people aren't given the time they could be using to actually share real knowledge. [01:21:30] And why is that? I haven't been around this organization long enough to know why that is and I don't want to guess, but let's figure it out. So maybe the talks this year or how we picked the steeps for next year, go give feedback and like, oh, I want to hear more about that program and everybody comes together and talks about it. Yeah, that's the biggest one. I also have 40 bullet points of accessibility problems that we'll talk about that folks afterwards, but I will throw in that just because I said [01:22:00] it.

Digital equity can't happen if we're not being actually digitally accessible and following the actual guidelines for what that means for colorblind folks. People use braille and all of that. That's a much longer topic. I'm happy to talk to anybody about what that means. But there's no a SL here. I don't know how anyone in a wheelchair would get around that room upstairs. The subtitles aren't readable over the slides. That's just the top three things I've seen. So we have to be [01:22:30] better at that because you said earlier, I think, or one of you is anyone at this conference on ACP, right? Where's their stories? Are you, I want to hear from them. What does that look like anyway?

Audience (01:22:52):
What Are the people that lose their jobs can tell it's going to at

Dan Ryan (01:22:56):
Right? Where are they this week? Right? Yeah.

Shayna Englin (01:23:00):
[01:23:00] So I think minus less of a question and more of a call for help as a local worker, it seems straightforward to question and pressure. The governments that have not made public announcements of investments hired people in their offices or done big shiny things, but asking, I am challenging you all to pressure those municipalities and those decision makers that have publicly committed those dollars or have stood up those offices and have made commitments. [01:23:30] Because a lot of times those broadband office workers, we go around and we promote the good that we've done because that big dollar sign, that also wasn't enough to start with. We were probably only given a fraction of that and now I'm on a campaign to get the rest of it. So yes, I only highlight the good things that we do. I only highlight the impact that we've had. But I promise you there are a million challenges, a million barriers that I'm facing and there's a lot of things that I could but probably wouldn't [01:24:00] have my job tomorrow. So I can't say. And so pressure them. Ask them that dollar sign amount that you have on your article in your press conference, where are you at with that? How much money have you actually given to that office? And in fact, sometimes you'd be surprised to say that it's been taken back and you can't go out there and say that and you have to promote your program. So I just call to action on that. Please, please mind your coalition

Audience (01:24:29):
One more. And I saw [01:24:30] your know that. Thanks Chris. My name's Preston Ney. First I want to honor Dan's willingness from the beginning to confront the board to confront power about the decisions about what would and wouldn't be discussed in this conference, inaugurating productive conflict. And then secondly, I want to ask the room and I want to ask the panel, what is the path to a digital equity, digital [01:25:00] justice, like a caucus in Congress? How do we look at the past several years where we had a $6 trillion potentiality for a build back better bill reduced to another smaller trillion dollar potentiality for a build back better bill reduced to an infrastructure only bill that at first had a hundred billion dollars listed for broadband to then publish with only 65 billion for broadband. That also cut out explicit [01:25:30] preference for community and municipal construction. What is the path that we need so that those numbers are not an eclipsed horizon ahead of us, but they're well behind us and that the power of the state is lifting our intersectional equity goals by default. Thoughts?

Christopher Mitchell (01:26:00):
[01:26:00] You just give one last question in the audience here.

Joshua Edmonds (01:26:05):
Well, okay. While you're walking. Okay. So yeah, I think that's where it gets disheartening. And it's hard because it's like you watch that ladder two point gets smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. The point's like, oh, come on, for real. And I remember there was a line that was said that maybe it was said on Twitter or X or whatever, and [01:26:30] it stuck out to me because it bothered me and it was we should keep ACP until we have a plan. And man, that bothered me. Oh my gosh. Even when I say it now I get itchy. Because it's one of those things where it's like, okay, one, if we don't have a plan now, then will we ever, but fine, let's just say we don't have a plan. Let's say collectively we do not have a plan.

Alright? If we were to go to every single locality and [01:27:00] not think to the level of the allocation that someone predetermined and said, no, no, no, no, we only have 20 million, so you got to think within 20, but of the 20 you can only get 10. No, no, no. How much do the problems cost for us that digital empowerment and every one of our respective geographies, every one of 'em, how much does it cost? And I think that's where I would like if there could be a charge for us all to do of that legitimate mapping where we're not thinking in this deficient manner. [01:27:30] Because so many of the digital equity space, it's from the nonprofit part of it. And the problem with that is nonprofits very valiantly are used to working in deficits. So so much of that deficit operation then goes into your perception on things.

So as a result, you're always going to ask for less in perpetuity. So then we all get less in perpetuity. So it's like what happens if we remove the deficit system? We say, okay, in order to bridge Philly's digital divide, I don't care [01:28:00] what a map says that was whatever, how much does it cost to bridge Philly's digital divide? How much does it cost to bridge Baltimore's digital divide? How much does it cost to bridge Memphis' digital divide? How much? And at that point, I would then say that is the formulation of a plan. And then we collectively organize off of those numbers and then that's the number that we all collectively agree on.

Christopher Mitchell (01:28:21):
Stop being so insightful.

Joshua Edmonds (01:28:22):

Shayna Englin (01:28:25):
Just quickly, I'm way less inspirational. I think insightful [01:28:30] this because I would say way more tactically is who does Congress give a shit about? Well, first of all, where does Congress come from? States who does Congress give a shit about, from what I can tell, don't really give a shit about their individual constituents. They give a shit about what they're hearing from state folks. So even in California where congress people are whatever, a dime a dozen, you can't go into a grocery store without running into a Congress person even there the [01:29:00] people, if we want to get a commerce person to say something on our behalf, we have to get the mayors and county supervisors and the state legislators and the governor's office even to go and be like, come on, do something here. So less inspirationally, more kind of like fascinatingly. But I think more tactically is we don't get there at the congressional level or at the federal level until we get there at more of the local, regional, and state level.

Audience (01:29:30):
[01:29:30] First of all, I wanted to say thank you. This has been the most valuable session that I've attended today.

Dan Ryan (01:29:40):
Take that upstairs.

Audience (01:29:43):
That's what you should know, that NDIA had a staff member outside of the door preventing people from coming in, including me, which is the reason why I'm going to ask my next question. How can we as attendees and as people pressure NDIA [01:30:00] to make sure that these underserved voices are present at this conference? One person actually used in the room had the actual, what is it? Discounted Internet program. Very few people that are impacted by the decisions that are made are present. But Verizon gets 30 minutes to get pr. How can we take action today to make sure that the people are represented at this conference?

Christopher Mitchell (01:30:27):
That's a very good question. I would [01:30:30] like to answer quickly because I do want to have respect for everyone's time and I hate being late. And I wanted to say another thing. So go ahead.

Dan Ryan (01:30:41):
The quick one is the whole value of the conference was we're all here, don't show up. If they don't fix it, do another one to your own. We're all organized. We can get this done. Yeah. Chattanooga would love to have you.

Open arms.

That's the easy one. That's the quick answer.

Melanie Silva (01:30:57):
And our municipal broadband would pun it. So

Dan Ryan (01:31:00):
[01:31:00] It's true.

Joshua Edmonds (01:31:01):
So many words in this panel

Christopher Mitchell (01:31:07):
Any last thoughts? So

I want to say, I sometimes see this question about why don't we have more political parties? And the answer is because the Democrats and the Republicans have a million volunteers that go out and do things throughout the year. NDIA does a heck of a good job of doing a lot of things and they could really benefit from more people stepping up to help. [01:31:30] They call for volunteers typically to try and figure out what sessions should be done and that sort of a thing. I have found that they respond well to criticism because they're trying to do a very good job. And so I do think there's a session here, they're going to respond. They're going to look at these and read these. And so even if you don't think about it right now and you send a note later on, something you've thought about, something that could feel better, I think they're going to respond well to it.

I've organized events and they are so hard. And so [01:32:00] I think that there's a need when we are honest with each other to give grace, but also to give a hard criticism. And I want to end by noting that the work that I've done with tribes, it's really frustrating the work that we've done. We just recently, Gary Indiana talking to people on BM state of Indiana is getting a billion dollars. You might get some devices or training, but you're not going to get better Internet access. It's not coming to you. [01:32:30] Tribes desperately need more funding than they're getting, but we are doing more than we ever have in the past. And it is effective in many cases. We are getting a lot of things right. We gave an unprecedented amount of money to cities to spend in different ways. Some of them have done it in brilliant ways. I think we can do a lot better. And that's where we need to, I think, have some grace and behold people to a high standard and be able to give criticism without making it personal and be able to take criticism about taking it personally or at least hiding how personally.


[01:33:00] I would really like to thank all of our speakers.