The National Broadband Stimulus program, having been funded by grants since 2009, was designed to bring the internet to underserved communities in the form of new network creation, upgrades of existing networks and improvements to public internet access locations.
But although over $3 billion has been received since the inception of the stimulus, many wonder how much progress has actually been made. One year ago, it was found that fewer than 4% of counties in the United States were meeting a national broadband speed goal of 3Mbps download and 786 Kbps upload. One year later, one thing that’s clear is how fast the building of broadband structure is growing.
Fiber optic internet enjoyed the most global growth, with Q3 2011 reports showing the strongest growth since 2009 with an additional almost one million new lines added. However, the costs to install fiber optic lines have not changed.
There is also much to be desired as far as rural internet access. Some areas are reporting up to a 25% difference between the speeds of their connections compared to those of urban areas.
How the Issue of Slow Rural Internet Is Being Addressed
Internet access is crucial in times of emergency. This is most strongly experienced by those communities with slow or no access. Emergency service to rural areas can take a longer amount of time. When the emergency is significant, every second is crucial to the saving of lives. Having internet also opens up a slew of opportunities for residents to more affordably complete many tasks, including shopping and job hunting. It also serves as a significant educational resource.
At a recent discussion about the broadband stimulus program in Washington, much agreement was voiced about the fact that much value to the country lies in the deployment of fast connections to rural and underserved areas. But also on the table for discussion was how to continue the current momentum of deployment by clarifying the path forward. At the discussion, it was stated that service providers would be the ones required to report each year on new broadband connections.
Broadband Access and Health Care
Health is another industry which can benefit greatly from broadband access. For those living in rural areas, it can be a great relief to be able to speak with a health professional online. Web cams can be used to view a patient’s condition and determine whether a hospital visit is necessary.
A pilot program launched in 2007 by the FCC revealed much about the viable solutions available for online health care. Lasting three years, the Rural Healthcare Pilot Program allowed healthcare providers to work together to create networks to benefit all health care professionals.
This program highlighted the initiative of providers in creating new networks. It was discovered that most health care professionals took advantage of currently-available resources to connect the facilities in their areas. For those wanting to build networks where service was unavailable, the professionals were able to convince service providers to expand their networks.
The field of telemedicine applications offered rural health care providers a way to access specialists in the fields of tele-psychiatry, among other fields. It was found in at least one state that the ability to access telemedicine actually resulted in a lower cost to patients.
For health practitioners, the ability to access expertise from urban centers via online video and review medical records online were two major benefits.
The Future for Rural Residents and Health Practitioners
It appears that current approaches to rural broadband, including telemedicine, are not yet enough to cause widespread network build-outs. This is due in part to the way in which certain institutions process and handle their data. In the case of some hospitals, patient information is not easily obtained whatsoever, let alone for telemedicine applications.
For rural residents needing broadband, many areas suffer from lack of infrastructure to support internet connections. Perhaps an infrastructure with basic guidelines in place that allows a community to be more involved in the creation of its internet infrastructure will result in a future where everyone has equal access to online resources.
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Guest author Jesse Schwarz enjoys writing on a variety of topics in the technology arena. He recommends ISP Watchdog as a resource for consumers looking for information on broadband.