Rural Broadband News Roundup

There has been a lot in the media this week related to rural broadband Internet. These reports emphasize that the times we live in are full of exciting possibilities for improving our lives.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama outlined his goals for the future of high-speed Internet, saying, “Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.”

Obama continued by describing what he believes is in store for rural Americans. “It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.”

We are already on the road to making this vision a reality. This week, the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a Department of Agriculture grant program that will fund 45 rural telemedicine projects and 61 distance learning services, as well as improving network connectivity. More than $34.7 million in grants will be dispersed. This money will help rural medical specialists use videoconferencing to provide advanced diagnosis for patients or consult with colleagues at other hospitals in remote locations.

Mental health care could be improved as well. A recent story in Mental Health Law Weekly compared suicide rates in rural and urban areas. The states with the highest rate of suicide are Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nevada. Highly urban areas like Washington D.C., New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have the lowest rates. According to Radford University psychologist, James Werth, Jr., better access to broadband could provide better access to suicide prevention and behavioral medicine resources for both patients and rural physicians and school officials.

Mental illness, a family history of suicide, and feelings of hopelessness all play a role in suicide risk, Werth said. Leading risk factors for suicide in rural areas include isolation, poverty, unemployment and importantly, lack of access to treatment.

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