Pittsburgh’s Digital Equity Commission released its plan Wednesday for closing the digital divide by 2030, with goals that include expanding access to broadband internet, increasing digital skills training, and providing technical assistance.
Mayor Ed Gainey, along with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, first announced the joint commission in September 2022, which originally had a goal of closing the county’s digital divide by 2027. The digital divide refers to the split between people who have access to the internet and devices to use it, and those who don’t or may not know how to use the technology they have.
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed all of us the importance of being able to connect in today’s digital world. For many, it was absolutely imperative for education, healthcare, employment, and more,” Mr. Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Ensuring adequate internet for all, particularly in those communities that are unserved and underserved with broadband, is of vital importance so that those who call this county home can continue to grow and thrive with equitable access to the many opportunities in this region
The commission, which is made up of a number of local organizations such as the Carnegie Library and the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, has established three overarching goals and how to measure them.
The pay rate for internet cable installers could mean that $1.2 billion in federal broadband expansion money that’s coming to Pennsylvania in 2025 will not go as far unless workers in less hazardous jobs are paid more appropriately, according to the Broadband Communications Association of Pennsylvania. “The money won’t go as far and not everybody gets connected: that’s exactly our concern — we need to make sure the dollars go as far as we can to get to every Pennsylvanian,” Todd Eachus, of the Broadband Communications Association of Pennsylvania, told the state Broadband Development Authority Board Nov. 30.
“The plan that we're sharing with you today represents the best ideas of our organizations to take concrete steps in ensuring that no one gets left behind,” said Heidi Norman, director of the city’s Department of Innovation and Performance.
The main goal is to expand access to affordable broadband internet. To do that, the commission recommended that the city, county, and other “community anchors” work to establish a regional Wi-Fi network and build more publicly owned IT infrastructure.
Another goal is to provide digital skills training by partnering with local entities like Pittsburgh Public School District to educate people on how to use their technology. Up to 16% of adults are “not sufficiently comfortable or competent enough with technology to use a computer,” the report said, citing data from the American Institute for Research.
The final overarching goal is to make computers and technical support available to low-income residents by working with groups to distribute technology to those in need.
County Executive-elect Sara Innamorato said she’s “looking forward” to going over the plan and “making it a reality” once she enters office in January.