Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition
In October of 2022 City of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition (PDEC), a working group of anchor organizations already working to promote digital equity and smaller community groups with intimate knowledge of the community need.
PDEC has identified four areas of greatest need for digital equity programming and defined equity outcomes for each goal. In their final report, due this summer, PDEC will provide specific recommendations to address each of the four areas.
- High quality, affordable broadband internet services
- Computing devices that meet their needs
- Internet skills, knowledge, and literacy
- Accessible technical support
In 2015, the City of Pittsburgh published the Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation which was underwritten by several grants, led by the Hillman Foundation. The Roadmap opened communications and partnerships between city government, residents and technology-oriented community groups along with sustained programs such as PGH Lab, the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center and participation in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program. However, local government has not engaged in sustained digital inclusion activities to directly close the digital divide for our residents. The increasing importance of online activities for residents during the pandemic now requires proactive leadership to close the digital divide across our region.
According to the latest available release of American Community Survey data:
- While 86.5% of households in Pittsburgh have a broadband subscription;
- only 70.8% of senior households (over 65 years old) have a broadband subscription; and
- only 71.1% of households making less than $20,000 annually have a broadband subscription.
- 17.6% of households in Pittsburgh do not have a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer, leaving low-income residents, particularly in Black and Hispanic households, to struggle with using their cellular phones for necessary online services.
Local surveys, national surveys, and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that affordability is the biggest reason households do not subscribe to broadband, and a lack of understanding for how to use a computer is a major contributing factor. Additionally, a 2022 Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission report on Equitable Broadband Access indicates that Seniors, Families with K-12 students, and Black citizens are disproportionately disconnected, and efforts should be taken to help these key populations.
A coordinated effort led by County and City officials along with leaders from other anchor institutions will allow the Pittsburgh region to submit well-rounded applications for enough funding to make digital equity a reality in the years to come and address the gaps in digital skills, low-cost high-speed internet services, access to devices and technical assistance.