Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition has a new strategic plan to boost access by 2030

Amid a national push to boost (and fund) digital access, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are on a mission to close the digital divide by 2030.

To make this hope a reality, city and county leaders tasked the Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition, a group of nonprofits and institutional partners, with gathering feedback from residents and devising a plan to ensure all county residents have digital access. Roughly a year after the coalition and its members were introduced to the public, the coalition has settled on a plan.

On Wednesday afternoon, city and county officials explained that the new plan includes expanding access to broadband internet, offering access to digital skills training, and providing technical access to residents in need.

Residents in Allegheny County have both some of the highest internet speeds in the region, and areas with inadequate internet speeds or few service options, according to a 2022 report from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. Moving forward, the officials feel the best approach is to focus on narrowing the gaps most prominent in the communities and neighborhoods where many residents have the least digital access.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that addressing the disparity is imperative because in today’s world, without digital access, obtaining equity in areas such as housing and education becomes much more challenging.

“If we were here decades ago or a century ago, we would be talking about people that weren’t connected with electricity,” Fitzgerald said during the Wednesday press conference. “That’s where we are right now. We need to make sure that everybody in the city, everybody in the county and quite frankly, in my next job, everybody in the region is connected digitally.” (Fitzgerald will become executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission when Sara Innamorato takes over as county executive in January.)

The Digital Equity Coalition includes entities such as the Greater Pittsburgh Digital Inclusion Alliance, Computer Reach, University of Pittsburgh and Community Internet Solutions. By combining the government’s influence and these organizations’ understanding of how to get low-cost, reliable broadband internet access to those who need it, coalition members are aiming to eliminate digital inequity by the end of 2030. The original goal was 2027, meant to be completed five years from the coalition’s fall 2022 launch.

After conducting community listening sessions this year — and after some delays — the coalition developed a strategic plan with goals centered on expanding access and building residents’ skills.

The first goal, per the report: accessible and affordable internet. The coalition recommends that to bring greater access, the city and county establish a free, regional Wi-Fi network; invest in publicly owned IT infrastructure; bolster the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center’s work via an open data repository; and “facilitate more open ISP markets.”

The second goal is to boost digital literacy skills by providing county residents of all ages and skill levels with a curriculum that leaves them with the skills they need to use current forms of technology.

Lastly, the coalition aims to increase access to computing devices and technical support.

“This community strategic 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,” Pittsburgh Department of Innovation & Performance Director Heidi Norman said during the press conference. ”All students should be able to get the online education and training that they need without worrying that the cost of their internet connection may be too high to afford next month.”

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