Law Professors Look to Narrow the Racial Gap in Broadband Internet Access

Olivier Sylvain, an associate professor of law at Fordham University in New York and Sheila Foster, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, are leading the legal team of a project that hopes to bring broadband internet access to low-income residents in Harlem.

The Smart and Connected Communities project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, will place servers in subscribing buildings. Residents of these building will be able to access Wi-Fi using affordable tablet devices that they can use to access a wide range of online services. The system will result in lower costs for consumers.

Sylvain and Foster will put together a public trust agreement among local government officials, building owners, building residents, and other stakeholders that will govern the operation of the Wi-Fi system.

Dr. Sylvain stated that “for me this is no small matter, because communications are essential for the operation of democracy. In order for someone to really engage the community in which they inhabit, they must have the capacity, the instruments necessary to engage. We are here to make sure that people can engage and maximize their communicative capacities in ways they haven’t been before.”

A graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Dr. Sylvain holds a law degree from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Professor Foster is a graduate of the University of Michigan and earned a law degree at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the co-author of From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement (New York University Press, 2000). Before joining the faculty at Georgetown, she was the vice dean and the Albert A. Walsh Professor of Real Estate, Land Use and Property Law at Fordham University.

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