Planning to maintain the status quo? A comparative study of digital equity plans of four large US cities
Keywords:municipal planning, digital equity, critical discourse studies
The term digital equity is at the forefront of municipal government planning to mitigate digital equity. Digital equity signifies a desired future to be achieved, yet its meaning is not well-established. As such, planning for digital equity offers an opportunity for new discursive construction. This study examines how municipal governments have constructed the concept of digital equity through textual evidence, the digital equity plans of Kansas City, MO, Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA. Adopting an approach from critical discourse studies, comparative analysis of the texts demonstrates how digital equity plans conceive of digital equity, characterize current problematic circumstances, and prescribe actions to make change. The plans have strikingly little to say about why digital inequality has emerged, yet they prescribe actions that indicate a more complex understanding of the problem than they articulate. The dynamics of policy diffusion suggest that the work of early adopters will influence other municipalities to create similar plans. Thus, the current moment is ripe for scholars to influence municipal planning for digital equity and participate in its discursive construction in both academic research and policymaking circles.