In the summer of 2011, the United Nations declared access to the internet not only a necessity but a human right in modern society. This declaration was hardly a surprise when it was released, access to the internet had become a vital tool to combat inequality, react in emergencies, and develop human progress. In that same report, the UN urged the world to make universal access to this crucial tool a priority. And, as of this year, New York – with the help of Google – is beginning to answer that call.
New York has taken a fun, retro feel to their streets and has begun replacing outdated payphones with tall, slim, and functional Links that provide free internet access to the city. This will have sweeping and powerful results for the most vulnerable of the LGBT community – the thousands of LGBT youth living on the streets of New York. Of those currently homeless in America today, over 40 percent identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender – a disproportionate inequality that speaks volumes.
To a disheartened, forgotten, and frustrated LGBT youth – homeless, scared, and desperate – access to the internet can be everything. It can be access to support, to services, to friends. It can be the ability to find shelter for the night, food for the day, and a coat for the cold. It can be the ability to overcome an emergency – criminal or medical. Ultimately, it can be the ability to change their lives; to find a job, a bed, and to rebuild. Furthermore, these new Links will also have the ability to provide several other important services to those in need. For one, they will provide a place to charge devices. Even more, they feature a screen that acts as an android device that will help those without access to a life-saving phone. The Link will also provide an emergency 911 button that will contact help quickly, a service that can not only prevent crime but save lives. The first of the Links will be operating in New York later this month, providing internet access to many populations previously denied it.
While New York is to be lauded on their innovation, it is not a program that should end in the Big Apple but one that should be mirrored in cities around the nation. The program isn’t costing New York taxpayers a dime. Instead, it is being funded by individual investors and will be maintained by ad sales on the Links themselves. In fact, through ad revenue, the city will actually be making millions within the first decade of operation. If other regions picked up the idea of providing free internet access to their vulnerable populations, such as LGBT youth on their streets, the country could see a great change in the homeless population. Providing internet access to those who need it most will help many overcome their situation and begin rebuilding their lives. And, as mentioned before, the internet isn’t a luxury anymore – it’s a human right.
Originally published Huffington Post