June was Pride Month, a time to highlight and celebrate LGBTQ identity, reflect on the work done to reinforce equality and opportunity for the LGBTQ community, and contemplate the tremendous amount of work still to be done. But while June has come and gone, we must continue this advocacy, especially as it relates to closing the digital divide and making technology more accessible for all. This is where the development and deployment of nationwide 5G wireless networks plays a pivotal role.
It's 2018, and yet 24 million Americans do not have fixed high-speed internet access in their homes. It is time that changes. In April, T-Mobile announced plans to merge with Sprint and create the first nationwide 5G network. And while the tech community is buzzing with the potential that new platforms, intersections, and ventures 5G could bring, it is important we not lose sight of the simple, yet life-changing, impact it could have. Something as simple as easing the burden of a doctor's visit, for example.
LGBT Tech has been a longtime champion of expanding access to health services through technology. As a minority group, the LGBTQ community can face uphill battles when looking for a doctor—18 percent of LGBTQ Americans avoid going to the doctor because they fear discrimination. Naturally, many turn to their phones for the answer, with 81 percent of LGBTQ youth searching for medical related information online compared to only 46 percent of non-LGBTQ youth. Imagine the life-changing benefits that could be experienced if those in need could connect with a medical professional through their phone.
It is encouraging that more than 70 percent of healthcare providers offer telehealth services, but for more than 50 million rural Americans who lack access to broadband services, including many in the LGBTQ community, telehealth is simply out of reach. Nationwide 5G presents a potential solution: a stronger, more reliable network that will give more Americans access to telehealth services. This means more choice in who to see for treatment, access to a wider variety of specialists, and a greater market for care.
With 5G-enabled telehealth, LGBTQ Americans needn't fear that the doctor they see does not understand their circumstance, or that the same doctor also sees their parents. It also means they can see doctors who have more experience with, or who specialize in, taking care of LGBTQ patients. Everyone should be able to choose their doctor, and this is especially consequential for LGBTQ Americans in rural communities. Expanded choice doesn't end there—the New T-Mobile's 5G network will force AT&T and Verizon to respond, which means even more investment in rural 5G infrastructure, more access to telehealth, and lower prices for customers.
LGBTQ advocacy cannot be confined to one month each year. The stakes are high. That's why LGBT Tech urges policymakers to prioritize the development of nationwide 5G, which would provide increased access to telehealth for those who need it most.
Chris Wood (@chrisbwood) is co-founder of the LGBT Technology Partnership (@LGBTTech), a non-profit organization focused on advocacy for LGBTQ individuals and communities as it relates to technology and the policies that govern it.