How the pandemic is exacerbating the digital divide in Allegheny County

One local study found that a majority of households lack broadband internet in some neighborhoods.

 

People are sitting in their cars outside of Carnegie libraries just to use the internet.

A survey conducted by Pittsburgh Public Schools found that more than 1,500 of their 23,000 students have no internet. Even more households don’t have enough computers or devices for each child to do schoolwork at home.

And a local nonprofit that builds public Wi-Fi has come out of quarantine to help address the digital divide that is being magnified by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Depending on the neighborhood, you’re looking at up to 70% of homes not having broadband internet access,” wrote Adam Longwill, executive director of Allentown nonprofit Meta Mesh, in an email to PublicSource. “So depending on where you are, it’s either 2020 or 1995. The problem has raised concerns about equity and public health.

People with means have largely begun working and learning virtually. Many have also switched to doing everyday tasks online, like grocery shopping, banking and seeing the doctor. But those without internet access, a computer or digital literacy skills aren’t able to shift important tasks online.

According to U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey data from 2014 to 2018, almost one in five Allegheny County households do not have an internet subscription.

For many low-income municipalities, that number is even higher. As an example: In McKeesport, where the median household income is $29,312, almost 37% of households do not have an internet subscription. By contrast, only 3.2% of households don’t have an internet subscription in Pine Township, where the median household income is $152,461.

In Pittsburgh neighborhoods such as Homewood, the Hill District and Hazelwood, local research from 2018 shows that a significant proportion of households surveyed lacked broadband access. In Homewood, the number was more than 70%.

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How the pandemic is exacerbating the digital divide in Allegheny County

 

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