The Institute for Information Policy celebrates 20 years

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When the Institute for Information Policy (IIP) was founded 20 years ago, the internet wasn’t quite powerful enough for memes to go viral, cellular phones were still in their infancy and Hollywood wasn’t sure DVDs were the next big thing.

But much like the technology itself, the IIP’s pioneering research has evolved over the years to examine the social implications of how information is gathered, accessed and shared. In September, the institute kicked off its 20th anniversary year with a celebratory dinner at Washington, D.C., attended by academics, policymakers and leaders of peer institutions that have partnered with the IIP over the years.

Since 1997, the IIP has conducted innovative research and promoted programs that examine the social effects of information technology. The institute is co-housed in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State. Its co-directors are Amit Schejter, Bellisario College and Ben Gurion University of the Negev; Krishna Jayakar, Bellisario College; and Carleen Maitland, IST. 

To recognize two decades of improving “democratic discourse, social responsibility and the quality of life” through research of information technology, here are 20 facts about the IIP, its people and its many innovative research initiatives:

1. $2.3 million and growing

The IIP is mostly funded through gifts and grants. Since 1997, it has received more than $2.3 million in external support, not including support from the Bellisario College, IST and in-kind contributions.

2. Major funders lead the way

Over the years, funders have included AT&T, the Ford Foundation, Verizon, Google, The Media Democracy Fund and the National Science Foundation.

3. Early days of information

A precursor to the IIP was the Catalyst Center for Information Technology (1993-1996), which was funded by AT&T. The Catalyst Center was started by Richard Taylor, professor emeritus of telecommunications.

4. Building the information super highway

Including “information” in the Institute’s name was a rare thing in the late ‘90s. Most related programs used “communications” or “media” in their names.

5. A first for the Bellisario College

The IIP was the first faculty-driven research center at the Bellisario College of Communications. Today, there are nine research centers.

6. Verizon gets it all started

The IIP initially got sustained funding from Verizon to conduct research on universal telephone service.

7. Continued support

Other support includes grants from the Rainbow Coalition (1999), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (2000), the Media Democracy Fund (2008-09), the Ford Foundation (2010) and many more.

8. Bridging the 'digital divide'

While early research examined access to telephone service both domestically and internationally, the Institute has evolved to studying the “digital divide,” which refers to the gap between people with access to high-speed internet and people who do not.

9. Semi-annual IIP workshops

The IIP has hosted 15 semi-annual workshops covering a variety of topics. The events are invite-only and involve anywhere from 30 to 80 scholars from the field. Typically, the workshops are done in conjunction with leading NGOs and academic institutions, among them the New America Foundation, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Tele-Information at Columbia University and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

10. Workshops are global

Spring workshops are held in different locations. Past events have been held in London, Philadelphia, San Juan, San Diego and New York. Workshops in the fall are held in Washington, D.C., every year.

11. FCC welcomes IIP

The Institute held one of its workshops in the Federal Communications Commission building, the first academic institution ever to do so.

12. The U.S. updates its communications

In 1999, the institute hosted a conference on the landmark Telecommunications Policy Act of 1996, specifically covering the act’s impact on Pennsylvania businesses and consumers. It was the first time telecommunications law in the United States was updated since 1934.

13. A conference all about video games

In 2008, the IIP hosted a conference on the video game industry. Sponsored by Verizon and called “Playing to Win,” the conference attracted an audience interested in the business of video games, including corporate executives, lawyers, child health professionals and scholars.

14. A research journal is born

The Journal of Information Policy, the Institute’s online, open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal, was started in 2010 thanks to a $380,000 initiation grant from the Ford Foundation. Today, it is one of the top research journals in the field. In 2015, Penn State University Press began publishing the journal. It is the first online open access journal published by the Press.

15. Hot off the presses

The Journal of Information Policy’s purpose is to provide high-quality peer-reviewed research in a timely manner to legislators, policy-makers and scholars. Before the journal’s first publication, research could take more than a year to be published, making it difficult for research to keep up with technology. The journal’s publishing process takes research from author to reader in as little as six weeks.

16. The journal’s growing readership

Between January 2015 and January 2017, the journal’s monthly PDF downloads more than doubled from around 1,300 to 3,150. Research from the journal has been cited more than 1,000 times in other peer publications.

17. ‘Communications for All’

In 2007-08, the IIP collaborated with 16 top scholars from 11 institutions across the country on the “Communications for All” project. The initiative served as a blueprint for President Barack Obama’s transition team, and its launch was broadcast live on C-SPAN the week of President Obama’s inauguration. The IIP’s work was the only academic source (not commissioned by the FCC) to be cited in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

18. On Capitol Hill

IIP faculty members collaborated with several nongovernmental organizations, which led to a briefing by IIP researchers and fellows on Capitol Hill to Congressional staff members on “universal service."

19. NSF funds broadband research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) identified the IIP to initiate dialogue on a “National Research Agenda for Broadband.” In response, the IIP organized a workshop with leading experts in academia and government in June 2017 at the NSF Building in Arlington, Virginia. Details of the program at Broadband 2021. The final report of the workshop is available online.

20. Collaborations abound

In addition to IST, the Institute has also collaborated with the Penn State Law School, Smeal College of Business and other institutes and centers on campus, such as the Center for Global Studies.

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Last Updated October 04, 2017