Broadband typically refers to high-speed Internet access. Unlike traditional dial-up Internet access, broadband is always on and faster than dial-up. Broadband access changes the way individuals access and use information. Broadband also impacts many aspects of daily life including communications, information acquisition, health care, the economy and education. While broadband access is growing it is not yet available in all parts of the United States. Many rural areas struggle with broadband coverage and access.
A recent story featured on National Public Radio (NPR) highlighted how an American Indian tribe in a remote part of the United States has difficulty accessing emergency assistance because broadband access is not yet reliable or affordable in the area. This story highlights the difficulties associated with providing broadband access and the problems which can result when a community is underconnected.
In March the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released Connecting America: the National Broadband Plan which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The multifaceted plan calls for improving broadband access, reliability and availability.
A special feature of the plan provides for the “reform and upgrade of the Rural Health Care Program to connect public health facilities to high speed Internet facilities and to foster telemedicine applications and services.”
As the broadband plan takes shape we can anticipate many changes in the way we access and use information. Providing individuals with a national broadband network can mean changes in the way health information is used and delivered and may also enhance health care. Many rural areas are still in great need of high-speed Internet access; through government funding and award initiatives we can expect to see big changes in broadband access in the years to come.