- Carlos Gutierrez, Dep. Director & General Counsel
Internet Access Must Be a Cornerstone of the Biden Technology Agenda in 2021
In just a few short months in 2020, daily life for all Americans underwent a profound transformation. Today, as a result, we live in a world dominated by digital classrooms, virtual workplaces, and virtual community events. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed existing tech and digital inequalities, and exacerbated struggles to connect already present for vulnerable populations. Our dependence on digital tools, services, and platforms, nonetheless, is only expected to grow in 2021, as communities and policymakers across the country plan for a post-COVID economy and society.
President-elect Biden has committed to supporting bold legislative action and making strategic investments in our nation’s digital infrastructure. This is an important goal that must remain a priority through his administration. That’s why the Biden Administration must make good on this and prioritize expanding high-speed internet access to hard-to-reach areas, which is particularly critical for modernizing telehealth services among other priorities.
For LGBTQ+ individuals, internet access serves an important purpose: connecting members of the LGBTQ+ community and creating shared experiences. Today, 80 percent of LGBTQ+ individuals use the internet for social networking, while 81 percent of LGBTQ+ youth use the internet to search for health information. Unfortunately, far too many LGBTQ+ individuals, people of color, and Americans in hard-to-reach areas lack access to high-speed internet and will not realize these or other essential benefits.
While the private sector continues to rapidly deploy high-speed internet to more Americans, the need is too great for them do it alone. The Biden Administration should continue to foster a competitive, market-driven approach to developing America’s internet and explore additional government support for private efforts to promote rapid network development and deployment – including for next-generation 5G service. Recently, Congress provided funds for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create more accurate maps of broadband availability so that we can efficiently recognize the areas that are lacking high-speed access. While this is a good first step, vulnerable communities need new solutions and greater investment to get online – and fast.
By ensuring all Americans have access to high-speed internet, we can begin to address the inherent obstacles faced by communities on the wrong side of the digital divide and unleash new innovative trends across America that will allow these communities access to the same opportunities as other Americans. Just look at the rapid expansion of telehealth we have witnessed during the pandemic. For the LGBTQ+ community, healthcare decisions come with additional complications. Many LGBTQ+ individuals struggle to find a doctor to whom they can disclose their sexual identity and as a result, 18 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans avoid going to the doctor’s office. For these individuals, telehealth solutions could provide a trusted link for real-time consultations to care that might not otherwise be available in their community.
High-speed internet and telehealth have allowed individuals to (virtually) come together and empower each other, while allowing for the continuation of critical medical care during a global pandemic. With bars, coffee shops, schools, and vital community centers shuttered, the internet became even more central to “normal” life for people of all backgrounds, and COVID-19 did not erase the need for healthcare unrelated to the virus. Unfortunately, millions are still left out and are being left behind.
To create the best online interactions and shared experiences – with our coworkers, doctors, friends, and family – and unlock the potential across the digital economy, the Biden Administration’s first step in 2021 must be to ensure that everyone has access to high-speed internet as soon as possible. After a year of incredible hardship and loss, the new leadership in Washington has the momentum to finally connect all Americans so that no one is left behind or made to feel alone.