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Moving Broadband from Sea to Land: Internet Infrastructure and Digital Labor in Tanzania
Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm EDT
As digital networks are extended across the world, new forms of labor are required to enable and sustain mediated communication. This talk addresses the need for further critical conceptualizations of the labor and resource challenges inherent in extending the global internet from urban areas to rural, low-income communities in various parts of the world. The East African country of Tanzania hosts four major undersea cable landings, suggesting that the country’s 51 million people would be well integrated within global broadband fibre optic networks. Despite Tanzanians’ close proximity to major internet gateways and the country’s innovative regulatory climate (van Gorp & Maitland, 2009), limited electrical and terrestrial telecommunication infrastructure prevents most citizens from benefitting from these cable landings. By 2014 only 15% of the population used the internet in Tanzania (Internet World Stats, 2016). This study uses ethnographic fieldwork, including site visits and interviews with workers at network facilities and data centers in Dar es Salaam and the Mara region, to investigate the material conditions undergirding these paradoxical dynamics. Building on her past research on rural connectivity in neighboring Zambia, CMS/W professor Lisa Parks‘ study will also explore how labor and resource conditions have effected an initiative called the Serengeti Broadband Network (SBN), which began in 2007 to establish broadband connectivity across 15 villages in one of Tanzania’s remote interior regions. Ultimately, the talk will draw upon this empirical research to contribute to theorizations of labor, infrastructure, and (dis)connectivity in the digital era.
Lisa Parks is a global media scholar whose research focuses on three areas: satellite technologies and media cultures; critical studies of media infrastructures; and media, militarization and surveillance. She is Principal Investigator for MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab.