executives with Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh want to ensure that the digital world is not only available to a select few in the region. But tackling the problem requires teamwork: The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission reported that as of 2022, county residents will have some of the highest internet speeds in the region as well as areas with insufficient internet speeds or few service options.
With that in mind, elected officials made the announcement this week Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalitiona collaboration between nonprofits, universities and technologists with first-hand experience of “bridging the digital divide”.
“We know all too well how innovation and transformation can leave communities behind, but to empower everyone, we will work as one with the city and my county partner. Rich Fitzgeraldour foundations, nonprofits, and private sector with a mission to connect our entire city and bridge the digital gap,” Mayor Ed Gainey said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The coalition includes entities like the Greater Pittsburgh Digital Inclusion Alliance, computer range, University of Pittsburgh and Wireless Meta Mesh Communities (soon renamed to Community Internet Solutions). By combining government influence and organizations’ understanding of how to get affordable, reliable broadband internet access to those who need it, coalition members hope to eliminate digital inequality by the end of 2027.
The announcement comes as a reform Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority is also preparing to distribute tens of millions of dollars in federal funding to organizations working statewide for similar goals.
“All of these organizations have really put it on the ground throughout the pandemic to help our communities connect in ways they need to access services.”
The Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition builds in part on the 2015 Roadmap for inclusive innovationa project led by Hillman Foundation. Now that the world is more digital than ever — think: the rise of virtual programs, pandemic-driven distance learning, and widespread remote work — now is the time to use everything we’ve learned over the last few years to bridge the region’s digital divide close to the coalition leaders.
In order not to leave any digital gap unconsidered, Heidi Normandirector of the city innovation and performance explained that during this process, the city and county rely on external organizations and institutions to indicate the best way forward.
“All of these organizations have really put it on the ground throughout the pandemic to help our communities connect in ways that they need to access services,” Norman said. (The non-profit organization Meta Mesh, for example, has about 100 installations through their free Every1online initiative.) “I’m really proud to say they’re coming together to create a five-year plan to close the digital divide across the county.”
Meta Mesh Managing Director Colby Hollabaugh said Technically that his organization joined the coalition because its leadership believes that a cross-sector partnership is essential to bringing digital equality to all Pittsburgh residents.
“Meta Mesh alone is a fair ISP; However, digital right means more than just secure access, it also includes devices and literacy training to support its use,” Hollabaugh wrote in an email. “We know that through the collective work of these justice-focused coalitions, we will be able to ensure that all of our community’s digital justice needs are met. As more organizations come together, we can include more community voices to ensure we build solutions with our community, not for them.”
While the coalition’s formal five-year plan is not expected before the second quarter of 2023, its strategy currently focuses on connecting all residents to reliable internet access, access to appropriate computing devices, and digital skills that prepare them to use the internet safely, and accessible technical support.
“We want to get people who aren’t connected to business to be connected to all services, and [have] access to all the amenities that are out there, which are often digital-only,” County Executive Fitzgerald said at the news conference.
In addition to those listed above, coalition participants include:
- A+ schools
- Allegheny County Housing Authority
- Pittsburgh Carnegie Library
- City of Pittsburgh Housing Authority
- Literacy Pittsburgh
- neighborhood allies
- Public Schools in Pittsburgh
- Pittsburgh regional transport
- United Way of Southwest Pennsylvania
Watch the full press conference here:
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the Groundtruth Project that connects young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Foundation. -30-