Broadband changes lives

Dr. Curtis Lowery, of the ANGELS program in Arkansas, explains how rural women who never would have had access to pre-natal care now can access it locally.

On November 7, I was lucky to have been able to attend an event in Washington, DC whcih announced the release of a new research report from the Alliance for Public Technology, Broadband Initiatives: Enhancing Lives and Transforming Communities. The report documents examples of how high speed networks have changed the lives, and saved the lives, of individuals and communities in ways that many of us could not have even imagined 5 years ago. The case studies examine the impact of high speed broadband on community development, access for people with disabilities, education, health care, labor and economic growth and public safety.

The report examines a housing development in Washington where high speed access for every apartment gives the residents access to job training, telehealth services, learning centers and educational programs for students.  It describes the uses of high speed broadband access to provide access to the deaf and hard of hearing.  There are twelve examples of the incredible ways students lives are enriched when schools are provided with really high speed connections. At the event I was able to hear "live" from a woman linked to one of these projects, at a small parochial school in a low-income area in Southern New Jersey, near Philadelphia.  These students now have video "conversations" with a sister classroom in the Ukraine.  That have talked and worked with NASA scientists.  Their whole view of the world and their own capabilities was expanded and enriched by having this access.

Another application that was discussed at the meeting and examined in the report is telemedicine.  As the speaker said, "Where you live should not determine whether you live or die."  That is the promise of telemedicine. In the case study about the ANGELS program in Arkansas, wiring a large network of rural clinics to major medical facilities means that women who never would have had access to pre-natal care now can access it locally.  The study shows how the program not only saves lives but millions of dollars in health care costs.

An interesting program studied in the report is the CWA/NETT Academy.  It would seem to be a contradiction that many of the workers who could be building this high speed network do not have access to it themselves.  This program was set up to prepare members of the Communications Workers of America for jobs of the future.  The classes rely on distance learning, with on-line labs and interactive discussion with instructors and other students which require streaming video.   Much of the content cannot be fully utilized without high-speed connections and the lack of these by many members means they can only participate in a very limited way, if at all.  

No one who reads this report could deny that access to really high speed broadband is not a luxury, but a necessity that can change the lives of every person and community that has access to it.  It also makes clear that it not only promotes economic growth but can save huge dollars in education, health care, and disability services.  The only bar to this happening is the lack of public policy in the United States that guarantees affordable, truly high speed access to every corner of this country.  The report also provides a framework for those policy initiatives.

The final speaker at the event was Sorraine Hot, the first place winner of a contest sponsored by the APT, on "How Broadband Changed My Life"  She described the impact of a free internet training center on the Navaho Nation.  The program, for which she is the trainer, provides access for job searches, homework help, and health care information.  Tears poured down her face as she watched parents use the equipment and access in her training center see and talk with their sons and daughters stationed in Iraq for the first time.  How can we deny this to anyone?