When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, internet connection proved a vital lifeline for LGBTQ individuals at a time when traditional meeting places shuttered their doors. As the nation’s premier organization at the intersection of tech and LGBTQ advocacy, LGBT Tech has consistently called for bringing connectivity to the masses, so everyone has a lifeline. That’s why we’re concerned with spectrum sharing proposals that threaten to leave minority communities, like the LGBTQ community, behind in the technology race.
Wireless spectrum powers everything from our phones to broadband internet. The rapid development of broadband and 5G networks has succeeded because industry and government stakeholders have worked together to repurpose old spectrum to meet new connectivity demands.
LGBT Tech’s own experience speaks to the importance of spectrum as well. Last year, through LGBT Tech’s PowerOn Program, we found that access to the internet was a lifeline for LGBTQ+ individuals. The pandemic forced LGBT Tech to accelerate distribution of technology in unexpected and urgent ways as partner centers were forced to shut down without warning. In 2020, PowerOn distributed 275 devices, including many, many wireless devices that rely on wireless spectrum, to 46 locations across the USA. These devices were used to offer drop-in services, support groups, computer labs, and emergency services. Across the country, LGBTQ+ individuals had to scramble to receive or maintain access to connectivity at a moment’s notice. None of this would have been possible without wireless spectrum and wireless devices.
Under the current model, the federal government auctions off spectrum to wireless companies for them to develop competing networks. The current approach isn’t perfect, but the model is working well, and now is not the time to switch strategies and risk losing the race to 5G. To win the race to 5G and keep the LGBTQ community connected, policymakers should:
Develop a spectrum pipeline strategy to continue expanding our nation’s connectivity capacity and driving innovation.
Reauthorize the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, which is set to expire on September 30, 2022.
Consider improvements to the FCC’s existing auction framework, such as by dedicating a portion of auction revenues to digital equity, rural connectivity, and next-generation 911 initiatives.
Wireless connectivity tools keep us connected when we’re on the go or away from home. Yet, for many LGBTQ homeless youth, mobile data supported by wireless spectrum is the only thing keeping them in touch with preventative healthcare, safe shelters, emergency services, and harassment reporting tools. In times of crisis, access to these valuable resources can be life changing or life saving.
Preserving access to these resources that have delivered multiple nationwide 5G networks in the United States should remain a priority for policymakers. LGBT Tech believes now is the time to renew the FCC’s spectrum auction authority and reform the auction framework to better address everything from digital equity to rural broadband to next-generation 911 services.