Studying Personal Internet Access as an Infrastructure: A Qualitative Inquiry
Internet access is often perceived and studied as a static phenomenon pertaining to a collection of connections and devices. To overcome some limitations of such an approach, this study examines Internet access as a dynamic phenomenon by conceptualizing it as an infrastructure. The study employs a theoretical framework of five attributes typical of infrastructures: invisibility, dependence on human practices, modularity, standardization, and momentum. Qualitative interview data were collected from British Internet users and analyzed to validate the infrastructural approach to studying Internet access. The results demonstrate that personal Internet access, studied as material artefacts and social practices surrounding them, is indeed characterized by five attributes of infrastructures. Conceptualizing Internet access as an infrastructure helps paint a more complete picture of complexities surrounding Internet access, encompassing its dynamics and the ways people experience, maintain, and develop it, and guides future research inquiry of its material dimensions and underlying social processes.
digital divide, Internet access, digital inequalities, infrastructure studies, social shaping of technology, qualitative research, Internet use