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Carnegie Mellon University

Using Infrastructure Gaps as Social Sensors for Informing Equity Aims in Policymaking

 My dissertation work aims to assess the feasibility of using established gaps in equity due to infrastructure provision as a mechanism for , rather than a byproduct of , infrastructure investment policy to address issues of social equity created and perpetuated by infrastructure systems. To explore this, I start by assessing the potential of using large-scale infrastructure networks as social sensors to detect aspects of inequity to better inform investment policy. I focus my exploration on broadband infrastructure to begin with, exploring the possibility of using U.S. county-level broadband penetration rates as a social sensor to predict rates of unemployment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic (Chapter 2). This work specifically asks, “How can infrastructure serve as a social sensor that allows for sharper detection of those groups which are most vulnerable to disruption?”. I find that broadband can serve as an effective social sensor which is sharpened when applied to employment contexts relevant to broadband, but, as with any sensor, is prone to error (either false positives or false negatives). I then shift my interest from the macro-system to a more micro-focused approach of how to incorporate preferences from end-users into the investment process. To do this, I develop an innovative approach to incorporating qualitative interview responses into a multi-criteria decision-making process (Chapter 3). I find that hauled system water users in Alaska have a strong preference for the aesthetic properties of their water provision which they balance against the need for reliable water system delivery. I end my investigation by understanding the role that skills play as a sensor for detecting effective and equitable use of infrastructure. To do this, I explore broadband connectivity throughout Rwanda and its impact on a critical aspect of development, public health (Chapter 4). To explore this question, I ask to what degree are wireless biomedical devices (specifically EKGs) available and used in the public hospital system in Rwanda? And what impact does broadband access have on the kinds of services which are offered? I find that the first tier of the digital divide influences the ability of offer telehealth services and propose additional future work on the compounded impacts of this access on both second and their tier access.  

Degree Type

  • Dissertation
  • Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

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  • Engineering not elsewhere classified

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  21. Research Guides: Water Resources: Theses & Dissertations

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