The Department of Government
The Department of Government

American Politics Lecture

Digital Cities

Thu, October 27, 2011 | BAT 5.108

Caroline Tolbert is Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa. She is coauthor or editor of seven books and numerous journal articles. Her work focuses on elections, voting, public opinion and representation in American politics. She has written three books on digital democracy. Her bio is available online:

Americans have become “digital citizens” and full participation in society, politics and the economy requires being online. Digital Cities: The Internet and the Geography measures technology use in American cities. It takes geography seriously using multilevel statistical models to rank America’s fifty largest cities and suburbs by Internet access and use. We also measure technology use across neighborhoods within a major US city. Rather than a constant, technology use and associated online political and economic activity varies considerably across geographic regions in the US.  The development of broadband technology in cities is vital for America's economic growth and social progress as more than 85 percent of the population now lives in metropolitan areas. Just as literacy was necessary for participation in society in the nineteen century, digital literacy and access is critical for full participation in the twenty-first century. The Internet has spillover benefits for multiple policy domains, including economic development, employment, education, health care, public safety, mass transit, energy, and political participation.

The federal government has defined broadband policy based on availability of infrastructure, mainly an issue in rural areas, not effective use. Thus inequalities in American cities are largely overlooked by federal policy, despite poor neighborhoods in cities where less than 20 percent of the population is online. A chapter on the “less connected” highlights inequalities in broadband access on multiple dimensions in American cities. We conclude with policy recommendations and a call for urban broadband policy.

Digital Cities follows two other books on the Internet and society. Digital Citizenship: The Internet Society and Participation (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2008) and Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide (Georgetown University Press, 2003). Digital Citizenship was ranked one of 20 best-selling titles in the social sciences by the American Library Association for 2008. 

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