FCC/Robert Wood Johnson Data Pinpoints Broadband Healthcare Disconnects

The FCC's Connect2Health task force has updated its Mapping Broadband Health in America platform, and it shows there is still a ways to go to close the digital health divide.

The new data shows that there are 214 counties, the majority of them rural, with broadband access below 50% and diabetes and obesity rates above the national average. The FCC says those "digitally isolated" counties are home to almost 7 million people.

The task force also released a list of "priority need" counties in terms of broadband and health and a new inventory of positively trending counties.

The data also shows that preventable hospital stays were 150% higher in the least connected counties.

But there was also some good news in counties like Upshur, Texas, and Monroe, Georgia, which saw broadband access increases of more than 60%.

There remains a rural divide, with 60% of Americans living in so-called "double-burden" counties—ones with high incidences of chronic disease and "a need for greater connectivity," while only 5% of of urban Americans are in double-burden counties.

The broadband data comes from the FCC, while the health stats are from the 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

"As telehealth, telemedicine, and other cutting-edge mHealth initiatives gain momentum across the country, this web-based mapping platform enables more efficient, data-driven decision making at the intersection of broadband and health," the task force said.

“By investing in this vital broadband health mapping platform and unveiling a new list of critical need counties, the Commission is providing the data needed to ensure connectivity reaches those communities most in need," said FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "I am confident that when relevant stakeholders work together across sectors, we will successfully break boundaries at the intersection of broadband and health policy.”

“The FCC’s Connect2Health initiative could not be more timely. America has a responsibility to provide equal access to healthcare for all, including low-income, elderly, isolated, and rural Americans, a significant proportion of which are multicultural populations," said Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) president and CEO Kim Keenan. "To fulfill this responsibility, we need accurate, current data on what MMTC calls ‘healthcare and broadband deserts.’"

“The Connect2Health Task Force’s mapping and data analysis also ties in perfectly with Chairman Pai’s Gigabit Opportunity Plan, which proposes to incentivize carriers to build high-speed broadband in underserved rural counties. As Chairman Ajit Pai, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly have each recognized, fast broadband for all is essential to securing state-of-the-art health care for all.”

(Photo via Luckey Sun's FlickrImage taken on April 21, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.