Students in the Master of Public Policy degree program at Georgetown University must complete a thesis that makes an original contribution to academic literature through research and quantitative analysis. Rafi used this requirement as an opportunity to pursue his interest in the role of communications technology in enhancing societal well-being. In his thesis, “Broadband Use and Civic Engagement,” Rafi finds evidence that high-speed Internet use may lead to increased rates of volunteerism, voter registration, political discussion, and charitable giving. This yearlong capstone project provided valuable research experience to complement Rafi's coursework, and required him to review a wide range of existing literature and make extensive use of StataCorp LP's Stata® data analysis software.
Abstract: In recent years, federal and state governments have placed strong emphasis on building out broadband Internet connections in the United States. Given the technological capabilities associated with high-speed Internet, and the opportunities for civic engagement that exist online, I examine whether broadband Internet results in a citizenry that is more aware of, and involved with, community and political affairs. Through quantitative analysis of data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, I find positive correlations between broadband use — as measured by household broadband connections, blogging, using social networking sites, and getting news online — and several indicators of civic engagement. In particular, broadband is well suited to enhancing activities that are predicated on access to sufficient information, such as discussing politics or registering to vote. It does not, however, affect more fundamental perceptions such as perceived ability to make a difference in one's community. Overall, there is ample evidence to further support the theory that high-speed Internet, both in terms of the physical presence of a connection and the applications it enables, has a positive impact on the extent to which Americans participate in civic life. My findings suggest that widespread deployment of broadband infrastructure can help support democratic institutions and enrich communities.