Pride and Connection

(June 16, 2023) During Pride Month, we’ve decided to spotlight one of our focus areas at Allies for Children that perhaps doesn’t get as much airtime as other issues: Broadband Access and Digital Equity. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequities between many Americans’ access to high-speed internet became increasingly apparent. We have reached a point in our ever more digital world where access to the internet is a necessary utility, so it’s important to make sure that all people and families are able to obtain and use such a connection.

But what is the relationship between digital equity and Pride Month? Well, internet access is often particularly important to members of the LGBTQ+ community, including and especially LGBTQ+ youth.

In a recent blog post for New America, Michelle Forest reflects on how, “The internet helps LGBTQ youth explore their identities and come out by helping them access information about sexual orientation and gender identity, connect with other young people at various stages in the process of developing their own identities, and maintain a certain degree of anonymity when starting the process of coming out online.” In last month’s Bold Voices blog post on the relationship between social media and youth mental health, we shared that social media can be a source of support and friendship for young people who experience isolation in their lives, including LGBTQ+ youth.

The reality is, though, that not all children, youth, and families have reliable access to high-speed internet, particularly in rural areas. The organization LGBT Tech wrote during the height of the pandemic that LGBTQ+ people in rural areas, “may depend even more on the internet to find connection with others given the geographic and cultural challenges inherent in rural communities.”

There are two main barriers that families may face to accessing broadband: availability and cost. Last year, AFC worked with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and Carnegie Mellon University’s Metro21: The Smart Cities Institute to develop a Connectivity Roadmap, which shows the state of broadband access across southwestern Pennsylvania. The data we collected shows that most of our region only has access to internet speeds that would qualify them as “underserved” or even “unserved.” Most of those under- and unserved areas were rural. High-speed internet can also be cost-prohibitive to many families. If a family did have access to fiber-based internet (the fastest internet connection), the average cost of that connection in the US is $79.92 per month according to New America’s Cost of Connectivity 2020 Report. That’s among the highest average monthly costs in the world.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to expand broadband access. Allies for Children is just one of many member organizations in the Greater Pittsburgh Digital Inclusion Alliance (GPDIA). The GPDIA is assisting with building an Allegheny County digital equity and inclusion plan. The hope is to make broadband connection available to more people in Allegheny County. Mayor Ed Gainey’s Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition and the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority are also working towards this goal. To help assist with the cost of internet access, the federal government has launched the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which offers financial assistance to cover the cost of connection. Many people who are eligible for other government programs like WIC, SNAP, or Medicaid may also be eligible for ACP support.

This past week was the ACP Week of Action. Many groups and organizations working to support digital equity spread awareness of the support that the ACP can offer to those who need it. As part of ACP Week, Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted a video in which she said, “In the 21st Century, high-speed internet is not a luxury. It is a necessity.” This is certainly true for all Americans as more and more of our lives move into the online sphere. During Pride Month, however, it is particularly important to acknowledge that internet access is crucial to many LGBTQ+ youth. Being able to find information, community, and support that they may not have access to in their regular lives is vital to allowing these young people to explore and learn about their identities.

Laura Condon, Allies for Children Project Coordinator