New study examines need for broadband expansion to allow for more telehealth opportunities

Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 8:34 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -Many of you live in a rural area of our state or have family members who do. Oftentimes, you’ll find problems with access to two things: fast internet and nearby healthcare. The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative is digging into the issue in a new report.

”As you all probably know, across the rural south, we are having problems with hospitals closing,” described Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative State Lead for Mississippi. “In Mississippi, where we’re doing work, we just had the only NICU unit close in the Mississippi Delta.”

Access to care issues are overlapping access to high speed internet. This report shows how fixing one could open up new opportunities for the other.

“We landed on five high impact areas where telehealth can save real money,” explained Ry Marcattilio, Institute for Local Self-Reliance Senior Researcher and lead report author. “These are hospital admissions, hospital readmissions, emergency department visits, lost productivity due to illness and driving costs.”

The study indicates that telehealth is out of the question for the majority of the households in the counties they studied, even if they wanted to try it.

“In the two Mississippi counties in this report, LeFlore and Sunflower, 70 percent or more of the households lack the needed speeds to make it happen,” added Marcattilio.

The Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi or BEAM was created last year. We went to Director Sally Doty to discuss the status of the broadband buildout.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Doty.

But there’s also a lot of federal funding available.

“Certainly unserved locations have a priority, but underserved locations are just as important,” added Doty. “So we’ve got to figure out how to make that money stretch it as far as it can for all of Mississippi.”

The report discussion also included the need for affordable access to the Internet, and there could be a build in answer, according to Doty.

“So all of the federal funding, there is a requirement that the provider participates in the affordable connectivity program,” explained Doty. “When we give these grants out, we are going to be required to participate in that program and have a low cost option.”

One grant is being administered now, another planned for this summer, those combined totaling around $200 million. And the state will know how much it’s getting through another program by the end of June. The goal is to spread that money throughout the state.

To view the full report from the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI) and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Community Broadband Networks Initiative, click HERE.

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