Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Even as our country begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the
challenges associated with today’s growing digital divide risk remaining with us
long-after the economic and public health hardships have been alleviated. Most
Americans are eager to return to normal, pre-pandemic life. But, as communities
continue to re-open, we should not walk back or stall the progress made in these
difficult months to get unserved and vulnerable populations online.
For the LGBTQ community, the internet has always been a vital tool to access
education, employment opportunities and health care. Today, 81% of LGBT youth
use the internet to search for health information and 80% of LGBTQ individuals use
the internet to connect with other members of the LGBT community via social
Unfortunately, far too many LGBTQ individuals lack access to high-speed internet,
especially those in hard-to reach areas. This is unacceptable when considering that
LGBTQ youth depend on broadband for the important tasks of identity formation
and accessing health resources and often rely on their phones for safety when faced
with challenges of crime or homelessness.
The pandemic has put existing tech and digital inequities on full display and
continues to exacerbate the struggles of already vulnerable communities that lack
internet connectivity. Each day we fail to provide unserved communities with access
to high-speed broadband is another missed opportunity to help them not only
become active players in the post-COVID recovery, but also to access life-saving
But the pandemic has also shed light on an often-overlooked fact that different
technologies and applications – like email, web surfing, music streaming or video-
conferencing – require different download and upload speeds. Internet speeds
needs for an urban-centered household with two adults working from home and two
children attending Zoom classes will certainly vary from that of an LGBTQ small
business owner in rural America.
Proposals to define “unserved areas” as those lacking a broadband connection
offering symmetric speeds – where the upload and download speeds are 100Mbps
in both directions – get it wrong. A shift toward symmetrical speeds will not only
drastically expand the areas deemed “unserved” but also limit available broadband
options and eliminate many highly viable alternatives such as 5G, LTE and cable
offering as much as a gig downstream.
We can’t meaningfully expand internet access with a one-size fit-all approach. A
move toward 100/100Mbps speeds as the threshold for determining who does and
does not have broadband would mean only about 42% of households currently have access to broadband. This will result in government dollars being directed to
overbuilding in already-connected areas – and the burden of this erroneous policy
will fall on the backs of unserved communities.
Proposals that favor symmetric speeds will fall short of the urgent demand to get
Americans online regardless of where they live or work. Going down this path only
makes it more difficult to connect those most in need, including people living in
sparsely populated areas with no fixed broadband solutions. As such, policymakers
must prioritize funding for broadband infrastructure that puts unserved households
on the map by effectively targeting funds to connect those without connectivity.
The internet was designed around the fact that many applications require much
higher download speeds than upload. It is important any investment in our
broadband infrastructure today is done with this important fact in mind. To create
the best online experience – with our family, friends, doctors, and colleagues – and
unlock the power of the digital economy, we must ensure that everyone has access
to high-speed internet as soon as possible.