Meet Larry Irving; the first African American Internet Hall of Famer

Mohammed Awal February 05, 2020
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Larry Irving became the first African American to be inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, since the group’s founding in 2012.

This means Irving joined internet luminaries, such as Vint Cerf, Marc Andreessen, and Tim Berners-Lee, honored for their significant contributions to the advancement of the global internet.

Irving is widely credited for coining the term “digital divide”, for his impact on increasing internet access among unserved and underserved populations, according to a Globe Newswire press release.

According to the Internet Hall of Fame website, Irving produced the first empirical study proving the existence of the “Digital Divide.” The groundbreaking research sparked global efforts to begin bridging the divide and continues to be widely cited today by those studying Internet access around the world. 

As the assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) during the Clinton Administration, Irving helped establish some of the earliest and most foundational U.S. domestic and international Internet policies, including those supporting universal Internet access, private investment, competition, open access and “light touch” regulation.

As part of this work, in 1993, he initiated hearings across the U.S. to identify opportunities and obstacles affecting the development of the nascent Internet.

Irving subsequently commissioned a comprehensive Census Bureau survey that quantified for the first time the U.S. communities and populations that didn’t have Internet access, and diagnosed some of the causes, the website added.

This research was documented in a seminal series of reports he co-authored, Falling Through the Net.

Irving served for almost seven years as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

“I’m hopeful that my coming into the Hall of Fame will lead to more opportunities for more minorities to become players in this industry,” Irving told CNN.

Irving was also a member of the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008-2009 and was one of the architects of that administration’s early technology initiatives, including their broadband technology initiative (BTOP) that focused on connecting community anchor institutions to broadband networks to assist consumer access and connectivity, the Globe Newswire press release said.

He also helped craft the Obama-Biden administration’s broadband “mapping” strategy, designed to determine the presence and quality of broadband in discrete communities, particularly in rural and exurban communities.

“Focus on the digital divide unquestionably has contributed to the growth and development of the internet as new and diverse populations have come online because of efforts to bridge the divide,” commented Chris Lewis, President, and CEO at Public Knowledge.

“The reports Larry commissioned as NTIA Administrator were the first, and remain some of the most notable and impactful, analyses of consumer access to the internet. In his introduction to a 1999 report, Larry was among the first to note that ‘[t]he divide between those with access to new technologies and those without is now one of America’s leading economic and civil rights issues.’

“That formulation has been repeated numerous times by others in the intervening two decades both inside and outside the United States, and it laid a foundation for examining emerging technologies, specifically algorithmic decision-making and artificial intelligence.”

After leaving the government, Irving assisted and consulted with tech companies seeking to address the digital divide, including working with AOL to develop strategies for increasing online subscribership among minority audiences. 

He also assisted Cisco open markets in Bulgaria and Romania by crafting programs in conjunction with the U.S. Embassies and Ambassadors to discuss the importance of internet connectivity. Additionally, Irving worked with the Global Internet Policy Initiative (GIPI) and assisted the program’s efforts to bridge the digital divide, including by aiding their work in India.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: February 5, 2020


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