All Communities Deserve the Benefits of Connectivity: The Ball is in Congress’ Court
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear how important access to high-speed internet is everyone in America. However, it has also exposed significant gaps and barriers to affordable and reliable connectivity that persist across the country. For low-income, disadvantaged, rural, and historically underserved or overlooked communities like the LGBTQ+ community, demands for digital infrastructure and internet service cannot be separated from calls for greater equity, justice, and opportunity. Our community and others deserve a fair shot at benefiting from everything the internet has to offer.
Unfortunately, an estimated 18 million people in the U.S. lack broadband internet service according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). What’s more, the Pew Research Center estimates that this figure includes at least one-fifth of rural Americans and 40 percent of those making less than $30,000 annually. LGBTQ+ individuals in particular depend on internet service to access invaluable health, educational, and community resources – increasingly important during this extended period of social distancing and isolation.
Fortunately, there is growing bipartisan support in Congress as well as a renewed effort at the FCC to invest in expanding America’s broadband networks. This could not come at a better time, as many schools are holding part or all their fall classes online.
Virtual learning only increases the importance of universal broadband access. Similar to the digital divide between rural and other underserved communities, it is vital for legislators and educators to help bridge the growing “homework gap” between households with access to sufficiently high network speeds and households that are still lacking broadband connectivity.
Just imagine being a student and trying to keep up with your peers participating in online learning, only to have slow internet speeds make it difficult to stream daily lessons or even access them at all. For students of any age—but particularly younger ones who cannot easily relocate to take advantage of public WiFi hotspots—these challenges are difficult to overcome under the best of circumstances, and nearly impossible in the middle of a growing public health crisis.
Robust investment in digital infrastructure helps to ensure the successful build out, and the overall strengthening, of America’s networks. Through our PowerOn initiative, we continue to partner with local LGBTQ+ community centers nationwide to increase access for LGBTQ individuals to broadband networks and the devices necessary to use them.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for the foreseeable future. In order to weather this difficult time and lay the foundation for a more connected future, Congress must invest in expanding access to high-speed internet for America’s students, workers, and underserved communities. By achieving universal broadband, we can help ensure that no one gets left behind in the digital age.