Survey Explores Broadband Impact on Local Economies, Telehealth, Education

Benton Foundation

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Digital Beat

Survey Explores Broadband Impact on Local Economies, Telehealth, Education

Craig Settles

Everyone who’s concerned about community broadband needs to contact your economic development agency, department, whoever spearheads your community’s economic development. I’m surveying these professionals about broadband’s impact on local economies.

Community broadband is advancing in many places nationwide. But it’s also taking a beating in some areas. The only way we can fight back, capture opportunities, and win challenges is to start with reliable data from those in the trenches. This is insanely important!! Nobody knows about local economies like economic development folks.

The earliest community broadband networks such as Thomasville (GA), Glasgow (KY), and Danville (VA) had economic development as a main driver. It’s still a leading driver for the over 700 municipalities and counties have built jurisdiction-wide and partial-area.

Danville launched their nDanville network to help attack the town’s 19% unemployment rate. nDanville was instrumental to recruiting the companies that lowered the unemployment rate to 9% within a few years. Glasgow’s public utility, Glasgow EPB, invested and recouped $5 million to launch their network.

“We wanted to reduce the amount of money leaving the local economy destined for the shareholders of a giant telecom company,” said William Ray, CEO of Glasgow EPB “We also wanted to bring new services to our rural community that would otherwise be many years coming to Glasgow.”

Communities shouldn’t stop at attracting out-of-state companies. The 2014 IEDC survey of economic development professionals, for example, revealed that 49% of members believe community broadband networks can encourage low-income, rural, and senior individuals to become entrepreneurs.

This year’s survey (sponsored by ETI Software) explorers broadband’s impact on 1) personal economic development, 2) attracting homeowners to the community, 3) the Homework Gap, and 4) what factors are keeping residents from adopting broadband such as individuals’ digital literacy.

Understanding the value of telehealth to the local economy

In 2006, Danville launched the network that eventually created a local digital universe of medical knowledge, expertise, and talent. “The healthcare argument was always understood, but it wasn’t one of the drivers network at the time,” states Dr Frank Maddux, co-founder of Gamewood, Inc, an ISP that joined nDanville. “People didn’t understand how important the network would become and what healthcare applications there would be. They see it now.”

To understand the value of telehealth, understand the concept of “continuum of care.” This describes a comprehensive integration of multiple healthcare providers and resources at all levels and intensities of care when treating a patient. This integration gives physicians a wider range of choices and solutions that help reduce costs, improve outcomes and increase patient satisfaction.

Telehealth incorporates software, hardware, medical devices, telecommunications, and Internet technologies with the hope of replacing paper-based continua of care that vary by doctor, clinician, specialist, hospital, and family caregivers. Telehealth hopefully will become the foundation of new continua of care.

This year’s survey asks International Economic Development Council (IEDC) members to gauge the potential impact on local economies of  broadband-driven telehealth and healthcare outcomes.

Some estimate that 20% of rural hospitals may fail in the next five years. What if telehealth slows down or even the reverses this trend? Telehealth could attract doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to rural and low-income urban areas, both physically and virtually.

You probably often read about seniors and their relatives wanting seniors to be able to stay longer in their homes and not incur the cost of moving into assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Telehealth can make it so that seniors can safely continue living on their own. The community itself also benefits by keeping a lively senior citizen community.

A common financial burden on both rural and urban hospitals occurs when people without insurance use the ER as their primary care physicians. It can take as long as five hours between a patient’s arrival and final checkout. The accumulative costs are staggering.

New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center generated lots of news coverage by introducing telehealth as an alternative to physical ER visits. As Health Matter newsletter reported, “All ED patients go through triage, when a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner performs a medical screening exam. Those who are judged to be in stable condition with no life-threatening injuries or symptoms are given the option of seeing an emergency room physician via a videoconference in a private room.”  

Some people might ask: Is there a difference between a community broadband network and a broadband network owned by a Time Warner, AT&T, or a Comcast?  The giant telcos and cable companies are among the most hated companies in the US. Most community broadband networks are run by public utilities, electric co-ops, small ISPs, and wireless ISPs (WISPs). These are locally owned, their revenues stay local, and their primary mission is to help their constituents, members, and customers.

To fully understand the economic potential of telehealth, you need to understand your constituents’ general telehealth needs as much as you do their community broadband needs. Avoid the cookie-cutter approach. Various constituents have different levels of complexity in their continua of care, and subsequently need different telehealth apps and broadband tools.

If you haven’t already, complete this survey today -

Craig Settles assists cities and co-ops with business planning for broadband and telehealth. He can be reached at:


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