Associate Dean for Faculty Development, Phil and Bobbie Sanfilippo Chair and Professor of Law, and Director of the Broadband Institute of California
Growing up in the inner cities of Washington, D.C. and New York City, Allen S. Hammond IV saw what happened to people who had less information and less access to the public process: they got left behind. When he took a position at MCI in 1985, he walked into his office and saw the combination telephone-computer on his desk, and realized that his success depended in great part on his ability to use it.
These experiences underlie Hammond’s commitment to seeing that broadband service will be accessible to all citizens, regardless of location, education, ethnicity, disability, and socioeconomic status. “It’s the citizens who have responsibility for making democracy work,” he says, “and increasingly, access to the Internet is necessary for civic participation as well as simply to function as a student, a parent, an employee, or a business.”
Hammond, a graduate of Grinnell College, and the School of Law and the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, is director of the Broadband Institute of California. In the fall of 2006, the Broadband Institute joined with SCU’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society to convene and host a community panel whose purpose was to give a voice to members of the public who do not normally get to participate in public technology decisions. The panel provided an opportunity to weigh in regarding the Wireless Silicon Valley Network, a partnership of 42 municipalities and Internet service providers whose objective is to provide basic wireless internet service to Silicon Valley.
Normally, such a weigh-in would involve a public hearing where citizens have just a few minutes to speak and where their voices would be drowned out by the expertise and lobbying power of the corporate interests.
Hammond, being a professor, chose a different approach. “My job as a professor is to enable students to go out and act. I used this same model in the public arena,” he explains. First, the two organizations drew a panel from a wide cross-section of Silicon Valley all the way to Gilroy. Then, they educated the panel on the issues involved and allowed them to draw conclusions about what the policies should be. Finally, the panel was able to ask questions of the experts, including the ISPs who would be providing the services.
“Surprisingly,” says Hammond, “the panel concluded that people should pay for access. They felt it was better to pay something for high quality service than to get minimal quality of service for free. They also felt that people often don’t appreciate things as much when they don’t have to pay for them.”
Hammond predicts that in a generation or two, all public “lifeline” services will be delivered by broadband Internet, as will be all television and phone services. He hopes that the net effect of his work is that “people in policy-making roles will take note of the fact that the public needs to be more involved rather than merely having a public hearing where you get three minutes to speak. They need to provide citizens the information they need and the time to deliberate so that the decisions the government makes are more representative of the total community government serves.”
Robert Cullen, teacher of leadership for lawyers courses at SCU, says Hammond’s approach to gaining public input is a great example of leadership. “He has worked with others to take on a complex issue and to give a group of people access to influence the process. He has opened up the process to these citizens and empowered them to act. Enabling others to act is an essential leadership quality and Hammond has done it in an exemplary way.”