FCC’s Actions to Close Digital Divide

FCC https://www.fcc.gov Chairman Ajit Pai has logged more than 11,000 miles in the U.S. to visit 41 states and two territories to get a first-hand look at both the opportunities and challenges created by the digital revolution.

He noted that in Allen County Kentucky, the school system with over 3,000 students only has one pediatrician. Now thanks to broadband, local students can see a pediatrician by walking down to the school nurse’s office and be seen virtually by a physician from Vanderbilt University’s Children’s Hospital which has a partnership with the school district. At the same time, an app was developed to allow parents to remotely monitor the visit.

According to the latest data, about 24 million Americans lack access to home broadband service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, so as a result, there are many who could benefit from the use of telemedicine but currently are being bypassed. In total, about 30 percent of rural households in communities have trouble attracting physicians, and specialists since they lack access to high speed fixed broadband.

The FCC is working on the problem, last summer the FCC’s Connect America Fund https://www.fcc.gov/general/connect-america-fund.caf  awarded $1.5 billion to leverage private investment that will bring fixed broadband to 700,000 unserved homes and businesses. On the wireless side, the FCC is going to invest up to $4.53 billion over the next decade through the Mobility Fund with plans to deploy 4G LTE service to rural areas.

Chairman Pai explained how the FCC is considering a program to promote the use of broadband-enabled telehealth services among low income families and veterans. The FCC realizes that patients would benefit from services such as sensor-based remote monitoring.

The Commission is looking at a proposed $100 million budget for the “Connected Care Pilot program https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachmentsFCC-18-112A1.pdf  and at the same time, the FCC is seeking public input on the best design for the program.

The FCC and the National Cancer Institute are now studying how increasing broadband access and adoption in rural areas could help address the burden of symptom management for cancer patients. The initiative called “Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health” or referred to as L.A.U.N.C.H https://www.fcc.gov/health/cancer is zeroing in on the needs for rural underserved communities in Kentucky’s Appalachia region. Today, 40 percent of the Kentuckians in rural areas lack access to high speed internet relative to other parts of the country.

Generally, in rural Appalachia, the cancer picture is bleaker than in other rural parts of the country. Research from the University of Virginia School Medicine has shown that between 1969 and 2011, cancer incidence declined in every region of the country except in rural Appalachia.

Patients diagnosed with cancer in rural Appalachia often face additional challenges to managing their symptoms and receiving care that can include economic insecurity, geographic isolation, transportation challenges, other health concerns, along with and limited specialty care.

In order to address the opioid epidemic, the FCC is expanding their “Mapping Broadband Health in America” https://www.fcc.gov/health/maps platform to include critical drug abuse data. The mapping platform now allows users to rapidly visualize, overlay, and analyze broadband and opioid data at the national, state, and county levels.

Also, the Connect2Health Task Force is going to launch a national “Chronic Pain Management and Opioid Solutions Challenge” with hope that the Challenge will stimulate innovation in developing broadband-based solutions that could complement and extend current interventions for drug abuse and opioid use disorders.

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