Right now, you are using the Internet to read this blog post. Whether you are on a phone, tablet, or computer, you can check your email, look at social media, read the news, or even do a telemedicine visit.
But while you’re enjoying all that the World Wide Web has to offer, did you know that as many as 800,000 Pennsylvanians, or 6 percent of the state’s population, do not have access to broadband Internet? These individuals and families lack the same connectivity options and technological opportunities as those with fast, strong, and reliable internet service.
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How the Lack of Broadband Impacts Health
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has become increasingly important to providing health care.
To prevent the virus’s spread while still caring for patients, providers like UPMC have used telemedicine to deliver care and treat patients remotely.
For patients who live in rural communities or medically underserved areas, telemedicine can provide the following benefits:
- Access to high-quality health care
- Less travel and travel expenses
- Earlier detection and faster diagnosis
- Easier chronic condition management
- Fewer hospitalizations
Telemedicine, however, is only an option for patients who have a reliable Internet connection. Without high-speed Internet, it can be challenging for health care providers to deliver telemedicine. Even those who live in rural areas with smart phones may encounter spotty connection and inconsistent service, which makes delivering quality care nearly impossible.
To ensure that individuals and families who reside in rural communities have equitable access to health care, we must improve their broadband coverage.
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Why Broadband Access Is Important
As providers expand telemedicine and offer more health care activities online, telemedicine is quickly transitioning from a service that people want to a service they need. The proper technology infrastructure will have to be in place and reflect the changing health care landscape in order for public health needs to be adequately addressed.
Unfortunately, access to rural broadband is an infrastructure issue affecting rural communities across Pennsylvania. Lack of access puts rural citizens at a considerable disadvantage and increases the disparity between rural and urban Pennsylvanians.
Where UPMC Stands
Easement agreements are contracts where the property owner allows another party to use the property for a specific reason and length of time. Currently, electric cooperatives, which are privately owned by the members they serve, must reopen these agreements with property owners to clarify existing infrastructure can be used for broadband. While there are no negative impacts on the property, representatives from the cooperatives must go door to door and request changes in the agreements, which is both costly and time consuming.
If passed and signed into law, the proposed legislation would allow the electric cooperatives to use the existing infrastructure to deploy fiber optic lines for broadband without needing the easement agreements.
Although these bills do not address every broadband issue, they would ensure that more Pennsylvanians receive broadband access without requiring additional taxpayer dollars.