An Internet Health Report for New York City

Photo by Chris Schippers on Pexels.

With a global report, it’s hard to do justice to any one topic or region. We dip in and out of countries and contexts that would be worthy of their own focused coverage. Now, we’re proud to announce that the first New York City Internet Health Report is online.

We’ve discussed the idea of local adaptations of the Internet Health Report with several people, but Meghan McDermott decided to make it the output of a one-year Mozilla fellowship. The local report features interviews with New Yorkers who are making the internet healthier in different ways, and local analysis across the five internet health issues of the global report.

Meghan is a longtime advocate of education, digital rights and civic technology in New York City. The local report is a culmination of a fruitful relationship with the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, who made “internet health” a pillar of their work in 2017.

They collaborated with Mozilla fellows on a number of projects — including digital security trainings for public library staff and Stronger NYC Communities. Over the past year, Meghan also supported a team from New York that together with city officials in Amsterdam and Barcelona spearheaded a new global network called the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights.

Questions for Meghan McDermott

Q: What made you want to create an Internet Health Report for New York City?
Using internet health as an actionable framework, I wanted to capture how NYC is striving to make life online more safe, accessible, open and secure. I was inspired by the systemic work that passionate leaders in government and civil society are doing to drive forward a better city through equitable policies, creative digital programs and targeted legislation.

New York is such a dynamic and complex place. Everyday, millions of people use the internet here to access services, make decisions, work and play. To have a healthy city we need an internet that can do right by us, and a report like this helps establish a baseline for action – be it increased support for a community-stewarded meshnet infrastructure, new digital security trainings for immigrant-serving groups, open data laws, or better accessibility standards.

Each issue area of the internet health framework has merit, but taken together they reveal an integrated, interdependent strategy for changing the terrain. So I was curious to see how a municipality might use the report to track progress on its city-level digital initiatives and digital equity goals, and in turn, share lessons and stories with other cities.

Q: How do you hope people will use it?

Because this pilot for the New York City Internet Health Report is designed to bridge the internet health framework with concrete projects, it’s heavily based on stories. They illustrate not only the challenges of the current technological moment, but positively, what people are doing about it. It’s inspiring. From here, I’d love to see two things. Firstly, for readers and researchers to think about the empirical side: what’s missing, what needs further study, what would add life to our understanding of “internet health”? Second, I’d love for other cities, especially those committed to digital rights, to dive into the policy efforts and projects shared here and see what might work for them to adapt or adopt. They could also use the report as a documentation template that they  adapt to lift up evidence of their own local progress to share with the world.

Q: What advice would you give to others considering a local adaption of the report?

For me, it was really important to have city government partners who can help surface trends, facilitate connections, and offer policy examples. It was equally important to have civil society partners at the cutting edge of emergent internet health initiatives and ideas. A combination of these is what helps map the internet health ecosystem of a city.

I’d also suggest to embrace this as an experiment — it’s not meant to be an academic study. It’s a scan, grounded in the leading efforts of people, communities and organizations driven to improve conditions at scale, especially those formed by structural inequalities. Sharing what’s working at a city-level makes the abstractions of technology more visible, it makes complicated and networked social, cultural, economic and technical components more manageable. The extreme harm of the internet in unjust hands — shut downs, surveillance, harassment, disinformation, redlining  —  is overwhelming, so we need ways to build positive momentum for change, to witness possibility, to engage everyone. A report like this is one step in that direction.

Download the New York City Internet Health Report. It features local analysis across five issues of internet health, and interviews with 10 people who are working in innovative ways — at the city level — to make the internet healthier for everyone.

If you have an idea yourself for adapting the internet health report to your region, country, city or topic of interest, get in touch with us: internethealth@mozillafoundation.org.

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