Super Network on the Prairie: The Discursive Framing of Broadband Connectivity by Policy Planners and Rural Residents in Alberta, Canada
Keywords:Alberta SuperNet, broadband connectivity, actor-network theory, media space, policy planner discourse, users, sense-making, rural residents
This paper focuses on the case of the SuperNet, an infrastructure project designed and sponsored by the provincial government of Alberta, Canada with the objective of providing broadband connectivity to public facilities, businesses and residences in rural communities. The data were collected through individual interviews, focus groups, and town hall meetings in the course of a collaborative research initiative (The SuperNet Research Alliance) that investigated the social construction of the broadband network from multiple perspectives. The objective of the paper is to examine in parallel the discourses in which the concept of broadband connectivity acquired meaning and substance at the levels of 1) provincial government and industry policy planners and 2) the residents of the rural communities who were the intended beneficiaries of the SuperNet. Using actor-network theory as a departure point, this analysis takes stock of the framing devices employed in the two sets of discourses and of the distinctive worldviews that generated them. It looks for the meeting points and the disjunctions between the grand visions and the grounded projections underlying the positions taken by the two respective categories of actors. Differences in the interpretation and appropriation of broadband among rural Albertans themselves are discerned and related to social factors characterizing different situations within rural areas. Rural broadband connectivity thus emerges not so much as a one-dimensional access equalizer for rural people, but as a complex mediator of opportunity, participation and identity.
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