Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Published first on Huffington Post.
On July 14th the Federal Communication Commission unanimously voted to adopt new rules to facilitate the deployment of next-generation wireless technologies, or what’s widely referred to as “5G” (4G LTE networks that are widely-used today), opening substantial portions of the radio spectrum to support the expansion of future 5G networks. The current FCC Chairman believes that 5G technologies will help more Americans get access to high-speed broadband , and these networks are expected to provide speeds more than 10 times faster than current 4G LTE networks used today. The four major wireless providers are all already in various phases of testing and prepping their networks for 5G technology. LGBT Tech applauds the FCC’s forward-thinking approach to spectrum policy since LGBT people specifically are poised to benefit from 5G wireless networks.
One of the questions we get asked most often is why is there a need for an organization to specifically address the technology concerns of the LGBT community. Of course, when it comes to technology there are many areas of overlap between the LGBT community and the general population but if you dig beneath the surface you will see that there are specific issues that affect the LGBT community in a different manner than other communities requiring heightened attention and vigilance.
LGBT people in the U.S. are core users of the Internet and broadband technologies and tend to adapt and rely on new technologies at a higher rate than the general population. About 51% of LGBT-identifying adults have used a smartphone or tablet for three years or more, nearly twice as much as compared to those who do not identify as LGBT. Mobile devices play a particularly vital and important role in the lives of LGBT-identifying adults because of their unique need to find resources and places that will be welcoming and supportive to them. Wireless technologies also allow access to supportive community members, friends or loved ones – our research shows that 80% of LGBT respondents participate in a social networking site, such as Facebook or Twitter, compared to just 58% of the general public.
However, LGBT people face unique and ongoing challenges that make accessing the Internet across broadband technologies essential for survival rather than mere luxuries. Specifically, the Internet offers a key means for LGBT people to explore their identities without risking physical harm; connect to other people in and beyond their own neighborhoods and communities; and, seek out information about an array LGBT-specific issues, ranging from safe places to live health information. Our research shows that a large majority (81%) of LGBT youth have searched for health information online as compared to just 46% of non-LGBT youth. Additionally, the research available indicates that searching for health information online may be particularly meaningful for lesbians whose health needs are often ignored or overlooked.
Research has also shown that often low-income LGBT individuals are caught on the wrong end of the digital divide, especially our homeless, who increasingly rely on wireless technologies as their only means of communications and access to the Internet are being affected disproportionately and could benefit greatly from improved wireless applications and technologies such as those that can potentially be provided by new 5G-enabled services. As poverty rates for nearly all populations increased during the recession, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people. Gender, race, education and geography all influence poverty rates among LGBT populations, and children of same-sex couple are particularly vulnerable to poverty.
Furthermore, deployment of faster affordable wireless services such as 5G is especially vital for underserved and underrepresented LGBT youth. Making up about 40% of the constituency of shelters and other homeless youth services, LGBT youth are overrepresented within the homeless population. For homeless LGBT youth, these technologies are of even greater importance, helping them stay connected with supportive networks and enhancing personal safety. Studies conducted among a sample of adolescents in Los Angeles find that communication technologies are critical for the physical and mental wellbeing of homeless youth. In contrast to those primarily engaging in face-to-face communication with other homeless youth, adolescents keeping in touch with family and friends by means of technology were less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Similarly, street youth who use technology to connect with family and friends from home were less likely to experience depression than those primarily engaging in face-to-face relationships with other homeless adolescents. In the context of preventative health services, online information on HIV and other STDs has found to be especially effective among homeless youth.
For these reasons, LGBT Tech is optimistic that the deployment of 5G across the nation will lead to significant tangible benefits for our community specifically. We will continue to work with policymakers and companies in this space to ensure that the FCC’s promise that 5G technology will lead to improvements in the lives of Americans applies equally to LGBT Americans as this technology is rolled out.