“We’re changing the world with technology” – Bill Gates
There is no doubt that the way we communicate has changed drastically over the years, even if some of the changes have been so gradual that we do not notice it on a day by day basis. We take for granted the ability to access the Internet, stream HD movies and videos, and download digital content, all seamlessly and at blazing fast speeds, through our smartphones, tablets and computers even though none of this was possible even a few short years ago. Beyond convenience, however, the rapid changes in technology have transformed the ways that communities, including our LGBT community, communicate, disseminate information, gather, organize and eventually evolve. It is this ability to transform lives and communities that may eventually be recognized as one of the most important results of the rapid technological advancement we are currently experiencing. LGBT Tech recently attended a panel call the Faces of Innovation on Capitol Hill that was held to educate Washington on the importance of broadband for high-tech innovation. At the event, Brett Swanson, CEO of Entropy Economics, released a paper that highlights the connection between broadband investment and innovation. He points out that private companies have invested more than $1 trillion over the past fifteen years which has resulted in vigorous competition among technology providers such as broadband, DSL, satellite, cable and wireless. Without this competition, companies would not be forced to invest in new technologies, nor continue to build out networks or provide faster service. The increase in competition spurs important investment in our networks. It is precisely this competition and constant race to improve technology through innovation and investment that has benefited the LGBT community the most by providing increased technological availability (almost universal connectivity even in rural areas at high connection speeds) at ever-increasing affordability (cheaper prices for greater access). Today LGBT individuals across the country form a national community; however, this was not always the case. Before high-speed broadband was widely available, LGBT groups across the country were limited in their options to meet others and were therefore more isolated and restricted geographically. Increased access to the Internet and faster connection speeds have been major catalysts in helping to build a nationwide community of support and advocacy. According to Bret Swanson, our broadband infrastructure has been made possible by robust competition, ever evolving technology and private investment. Without the investment in broadband networks and the increased access it engendered, it would have been more difficult for LGBT advocacy groups to organize and communicate recent victories, like Hawaii’s legalization of gay marriage and bipartisan passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate. Technological investment has also helped increase awareness of LGBT issues and gain crucial victories for LGBT rights. Outside of LGBT issues but still touching LGBT lives, private investment has jump-started a cycle of innovation that is creating jobs and growing our economy. Other panelist including SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest pointed out that access to high speed broadband is what has fueled this growth and will only continue as we come into an era around the ‘Internet of Things’. When faster broadband speeds are made available, companies and innovators create new programs and hardware, making broadband connected devices more appealing to consumers. As more consumers use new devices, apps and programs they drive demand for more broadband leading Internet service providers to invest more in their networks. This cycle of innovation has led to developments in areas like the apps economy, which today employs over 750,000 people. In order to continue our progress in broadband connectivity Swanson recommends that a few policy areas need to be addressed. There are many old policies that apply to broadband networks that were implemented before the creation or wide deployment of these broadband networks that should be reviewed and revised to conform with the realities of a quickly shifting technological landscape. These policies do not necessarily take into account the dynamic nature of our current Internet ecosystem. In order for U.S. broadband technology to continue its rapid evolution, governments – both state and local – should update policies to account for the constantly changing broadband industry. The LGBT community has a lot at stake in this debate. As documented early adopters of new technology, we are at the forefront of this charge. More importantly, the need of private investment that spurs innovation in technology that can then serve as a community building tool cannot be underestimated. The continued encouragement of competition among broadband providers which leads to more efficient and cost efficient technologies thereby allowing more LGBT people to feel connected is an important goal that needs to be encouraged. Ensuring increased access to underserved members of our community (rural LGBT, teens and seniors among others) as well as the education necessary to allow these underserved communities to fully exploit the technology they have access to remains one of the primary goals of LGBT Tech.