FCC Maps the Link Between Broadband Access and Healthcare

What’s the relationship between broadband Internet access and healthy living in America? As more and more care providers look to telemedicine and remote monitoring tools to deliver quality healthcare, the answer could be a matter of life and death.

To better understand the link, the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force has launched a new mapping tool to identify areas with lower-than-average broadband access, higher-than-average rates of chronic disease, or both, as often turns out to be the case.

“This is a groundbreaking effort at the nexus of broadband and health,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a statement. “The map makes clear that there are some communities that bear a double burden… They have the lowest connectivity and highest need.”

For example, rural communities where fewer than 60% of households have at-home Internet access show 25% higher rates of obesity and a 35% higher incidence of diabetes than in well-connected areas. And in Oklahoma, 67 of 77 counties in the state suffered from a lack of primary care physicians per capita in areas where much of the population also had poor broadband speeds.

For now, the FCC’s “Mapping Broadband Health in America” tool is purely diagnostic, but it could shape significant policy practice down the road. The future of healthcare access in rural areas is particularly pressing with an aging American population; by the year 2030, it’s estimated that 60% of all Baby Boomers will be managing at least one kind of chronic condition.

“The map can help focus on areas that need help,” said FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. “The map can direct resources. Opportunities that are enabled by broadband can’t exist if broadband doesn’t exist.”

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