Information and Policy Innovation in U.S. States

AuthorKaren Mossberger,Scott J. LaCombe,Caroline Tolbert
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 75(2) 353 –365
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211006783
How has the growth of broadband access and digital
information affected the diffusion of public policies
across the U.S. states over time? Over the past two
decades, broadband, or high-speed Internet, has funda-
mentally transformed how information is consumed and
spreads. The changes are comparable with the invention
of the printing press, telegram, and telephone (Chadwick
2017; Shirky 2008; Silver 2015). Each of these new tech-
nologies transformed society and structurally altered how
information flows. Former Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) chief economist
Ignazio Visco has argued that because of broadband
The dramatic fall in communication costs [. . .] and the
technological breakthroughs behind it, have led to a diffusion
of ideas, technological know-how and a general spread of
information at a pace that is quite unprecedented in the
history of humankind. (Clark and Thompson 2012)
This study examines how variation in household
broadband subscription rates has influenced the spread of
policy adoptions across U.S. states. Information plays a
central role in the diffusion of policy solutions, and states
with higher rates of broadband subscriptions operate in a
more information-rich, nationalized environment.
Measuring broadband subscriptions, or the percent of the
population with high-speed Internet access, provides an
indicator of how widespread and inclusive information
networks are within states, potentially enriching the flows
of information. Despite the critical significance of the
Internet for information and communication, the role of
broadband access and use has not previously been con-
sidered in a systematic way to explain the diffusion of
policies across the states.
Some diffusion scholars have documented that states
have become more innovative over time (Boehmke and
Skinner 2012), with others offering digital information
and communication technologies as an explanation for
this trend because they increase the speed at which
1006783PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211006783Political Research QuarterlyLaCombe et al.
1Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA
2The University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA
3Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA
Corresponding Author:
Scott J. LaCombe, Department of Government and Department
of Statistical and Data Sciences, Smith College, 201 Wright Hall,
Northampton, MA 01060, USA.
Information and Policy Innovation
in U.S. States
Scott J. LaCombe1, Caroline Tolbert2,
and Karen Mossberger3
Information is a critically important, yet hard to measure, component on policy innovation across state governments.
Widespread use of broadband has made it easier for governments to observe other actors, increasing the amount of
policy information, while also diversifying the sources of information available to policymakers. This should translate
into making governments more innovative over time and quicker to adapt to challenges. At the same time, the
Internet may disrupt previous existing flows of information by decreasing the importance of geographic proximity and
creating more nationalized or global information networks. We argue that the growth of broadband has made states
more innovative over time, while also reducing the reliance on neighboring state adoptions for policy solutions as the
information environment becomes both richer and more nationalized. We estimate a pooled event history analysis on
hundreds of policies comparing the treatment period (2000–2016) with a control condition (last two decades of the
20th century) and find that states with higher broadband subscriptions are more innovative overall and less reliant on
geographic contiguity for policy solutions. The growth of information flows due to digital communications has led to
states becoming more innovative while also operating in a more nationalized network.
diffusion, broadband, information, public policy

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