The need for high-speed internet connectivity is greater now than ever before. The emergence of COVID-19 forced the world to rethink the way critical services such as education and health care are delivered. A substantial number of rural Pennsylvania residents are either underserved or unserved by broadband internet service, despite what the data collected by the FCC states. Many urban and suburban areas of the region are also experiencing connectivity issues. In contrast to the rural connectivity where high-speed broadband service is oftentimes unavailable, urban issues center around affordability, and low-income households cannot afford access.
For children, this exacerbates existing inequities:
- Children in low income households are significantly more likely to lack high speed internet access.
- The digital divide heightens inequity in the education system. Children in demographic groups who are already lagging behind in test scores are less likely to have internet access.
- Even in areas with high broadband diffusion, black children receiving SNAP benefits are more likely to lack quality access to the internet.
- Not all patients have equal access to health care. Rural areas lack services we take for granted in cities. Low-income families in suburban and urban areas often cite transportation as a key barrier to accessing health care. As health care becomes digitized and telehealth more mainstream, connectivity becomes increasingly important.
- This is significant even in the delivery of human services and social programs. For example, WIC is looking to expand telehealth and online nutrition education to better suit clients’ schedules and needs.
As a component the Southwestern Pennsylvania Connected initiative led by Allies for Children, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), 17 community conversations occurred across SPC’s 10-county region. The purpose of the conversations was to understand how and where community members access the internet, what they need from their internet service, and how to address the gaps in their needs. Over 120 individuals attended the sessions across the region. Most meetings were held in-person at libraries, school districts, and community organizations, and Latino Community Center hosted a virtual Spanish-speaking session.
The overarching themes of the community feedback are:
1. The internet helps people to connect and learn.
2. Connectivity is expensive and unreliable for many residents.
3. Many people connect to the internet via a mobile device.
4. Rural communities feel left behind.
5. Connectivity impacts the local economy: Neighborhoods and Businesses.
6. People connect to the internet where they can and when they can.
Read the report in its entirety.