Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

Marwan M. Kraidy

Abstract

This dissertation examines the narratives of benevolence and national progress that underlie internet connectivity efforts that promise to “connect the unconnected” in rural India. Beginning with the apparent consensus among the national and state governments, foreign and domestic corporations, as well as NGOs and social enterprises about the need for internet connectivity, I explore the specificities of various efforts in order to understand what this internet connectivity is meant to do and for whom. I ask: when we say we are “connecting the unconnected” what are we connecting them to? What are we connecting them for? The dissertation examines three different internet connectivity efforts: a national telecommunications policy debate on zero-rating plans that pitted net neutrality advocates against telecom companies and Facebook, a state-level infrastructure project in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh that provided cable TV, internet and landline services to 650,000 rural households, and several community-level deployments of Wi-Fi networks built by small ISPs. I examined the design and materiality of these efforts, the economic, social and political arrangements they are embedded within and the larger goals they purported to serve. For chapter 2 I conducted a discourse analysis of the public debate on net neutrality. For the remaining two empirical chapters, I interviewed over 60 people across five Indian states: Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. I relied on Hecht’s (2009) notion of technopolitics and Jasanoff’s (2015) conception of sociotechnical imaginaries to understand the work being done by these infrastructure projects and the visions that lent them coherence and legitimation. I demonstrate how discourses of connectivity employ nationalism, how connectivity efforts can center extraction, consolidate power and what little room local networks have to thrive. I close by arguing that it is important to consider the technopolitics of connectivity, especially as the Indian state increasingly exerts greater control over internet infrastructure of connectivity, claims the data of its citizens as its own and begins to articulate a new doctrine of data sovereignty.

Embargoed

Available to all on Tuesday, August 06, 2024

Included in

Communication Commons

Share

COinS