In the U.S., the highest levels of unemployment are in places that often have the lowest access to broadband connectivity.

And, “without a proper broadband connection, these communities can’t start or run a modern business, access telemedicine, take an online class, digitally transform their farm, or research a school project online,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said yesterday as the company announced their continued commitment to expanding broadband in rural America.

Microsoft is expanding a program the company launched last year to address the rural broadband gap in the U.S. The Airband Initiative is working from Northwest Georgia to South Africa to bolster partnerships to connect agriculture, education, health, and other sectors in areas under-served by broadband. In 2017, Airband was working with 16 U.S. states; the program will expand to 25 states in 2019.

There’s an important backstory to this initiative that has important health and public policy implications. Microsoft has been studying the Federal FCC data on broadband access in America. The company’s findings have led Smith to write in his company blog on 3rd December that, “we’ve learned that an effective solution to this problem requires targeted but limited public sector help.”

He asserts that there’s evidence that the proportion of Americans without access to broadband is much higher than the FCC data has shown. “We’ve seen this over the past 17 months in many places and in many ways, including by talking directly to the people who live in rural America. Their real-world lack of broadband access differs sharply from the picture too often painted by inaccurate data in Washington, D.C.,” Smith writes.

Microsoft’s position is that the federal government broadband data estimates are doubtful, finding that rural broadband estimates calculated by the Pew Research Group are “far closer to the mark,” Smith concludes.

“All of this leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that today there exists no accurate public estimate of broadband coverage in the United States.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The map graphic, copied from Microsoft’s Top Ten Tech Issues for 2018, attests that expanding tech in rural communities will “ensure a fair shot for everyone.”

People who live in rural America also tend to have poorer health outcomes — largely due to those social determinants that build, or diminish, health. Education, financial and job security, access to nutritious food, transportation, and access to healthcare all bolster individual and community health. The broadband gap is generally reflective of health disparities in rural America.

When we consider “health reform,” broadly, it’s not just about hospitals and doctors and drug prices. Investing in the infrastructure and bases for healthy communities would go a long way to improving health status, and in the long game, conserve medical care spending.

“We all need to move faster. It took 50 years to electrify the nation. The millions of Americans waiting for broadband don’t have the luxury of time,” Smith concludes his essay.

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