Friday, August 28, 2020

Broadband critical to rural businesses, students and health, but one op-ed notes that telemedicine isn't a cure-all

"The pandemic has shone a bright light on the lack of adequate high-speed internet in rural areas as office workers have been forced to work from farms, ranches and acreages, and students have been required to study remotely. In addition, studies show that rural residents who lacked broadband were more likely to lose their jobs," Paul Hammel reports for the Omaha World-Herald. "Conversely, covid-19 has also created an economic opportunity, as more people have discovered that they can work from anywhere in the U.S. . . . if they have adequate internet speeds and bandwidth."

The rural-urban broadband disparities can be big. In Nebraska, a state task force recently found that, while 90 percent of the state has access to broadband, only 63% of rural areas do, Hammel reports. 

Kyle Arganbright, the mayor of Valentine, Neb., pop. 2,737, told Hammel that many students and workers in his town were unable to work from home or engage in video chats for school. "Fiber is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessary utility," Arganbright said. 

But expanding broadband to rural areas is complicated and expensive, especially due to "last-mile" concerns and tight state budgets during the pandemic, Hammel reports.

Though many Americans take reliable broadband connectivity for granted, more than 19 million Americans lack access to it. That gap must close for the benefit of rural students, farmers, and businesses, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., writes in an op-ed for The Hill. Better rural broadband access could also bring younger people to rural areas, especially those who want to work from home.

Better broadband can also make telehealth accessible to rural health-care providers and patients, but telehealth isn't a cure-all for rural health-care disparities, Libby Watson writes for The Soapbox.

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