FCC Releases Data-Driven Broadband Health Mapping Tool

Aug. 3, 2016
The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force launched a web-based mapping tool that visualizes and overlays broadband and health data to enable further study of the connection of health outcomes and broadband availability.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force launched a web-based mapping tool that visualizes and overlays broadband and health data to enable further study of the connection of health outcomes and broadband availability.

The data-driven tool, Mapping Broadband Health in America (available at www.fcc.gov/health/maps) was designed to enable data-driven decision making on broadband health policies and connected health solutions and to help the public and private sector, and local communities, identify opportunities and gaps in connectivity and care, according to FCC officials. The goal is to drive public-private partnerships, private sector collaborations and focus policy efforts on addressing gaps and disparities in connectivity and care.

“The mapping tool is an interactive experience, showing various aspects of connectivity and health for every state and county in the United States. Users can generate customized maps that display broadband access, adoption and speed data alongside various health measures (e.g., obesity, diabetes, disabilities and physician access) in urban and rural areas. These maps can be used by both public and private sectors and local communities to identify not only gaps, but also opportunities,” the FCC stated in a press release.

“We are excited to make this state-of-the-art tool available to the public,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a prepared statement. “The unique insights revealed by this mapping platform can be utilized by businesses and policymakers to effect change and innovation.”

According to the FCC when unveiling the new mapping tool, initial findings from studies using the mapping tool indicates that there is a connection between lack of broadband availability and poor health.

As an example, the least connected counties generally have the highest rates of chronic disease, and this holds true across access to care, quality of care and health outcome metrics, according to the FCC. Studies of the broadband health data on the mapping tool found that obesity prevalence is 25 percent higher and diabetes prevalence is 35 percent higher in these counties (i.e. where 60 percent of households lack access to broadband and more than 60 percent lack basic Internet connections at home.)

And, according to the FCC, there is a significant gap between rural and urban counties. Almost 60 percent of rural Americans live in counties that have high burdens of chronic disease as well as a need for greater broadband connectivity, while less than 5 percent of urban America falls into the same category.

“This is a groundbreaking effort at the nexus of broadband and health,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement. “The map makes clear that there are some communities that bear a double burden...they have the lowest connectivity and highest need. Today, we identify challenges and point to sustainable and innovative solutions.”

According to the FCC’s key findings, almost half of U.S. counties have high burdens of chronic disease (e.g., diabetes) as well as a need for greater broadband connectivity (e.g., these counties are below 80 percent access to broadband at 25/3 mbps). That translates to over 35 million people who live in counties with a “double burden” of need.

Rural counties are 10 times as likely as urban areas to be in low broadband access (below 50 percent), high diabetes areas (above 10 percent).

And, FCC data indicates that the distribution of “double burden” counties is not random, but includes sizeable clusters that could be targeted for intervention. Specifically, the majority of “double burden” areas —high chronic disease, lower broadband access —fall into “clusters” of five or more counties with total populations over 100,000. This has significant implications for crafting successful and sustainable business models for connected health in rural areas.

And, the FCC also identified counties that have a “critical need” for better broadband and these critical need counties were divided into a Priority 100 list and a Rural 100 list. For the Rural 100 list includes only counties with majority rural populations.

“The Priority 100 and Rural 100 lists we release today identify those counties by name, with the hope this will catalyze action and provide a roadmap for private investment and coordinated public support to follow,” Clyburn said in a statement.

“Many of these priority counties are concentrated in the South and Midwest, where they average 8 percent fixed broadband access, have a 34 percent higher diabetes prevalence and 24 percent higher obesity prevalence than the national average. And no, these statistics are not typos. These are real figures and real places where awareness must be raised, issues must be characterized, collaborations must be forged, and data-driven efforts among stakeholders, must be facilitated,” Clyburn said.

Since 2014, the Task Force has traveled to several states as part of its “Beyond the Beltway Series” to learn how communities are leveraging broadband technologies and next-generation communications services to improve access to health and care services.

“This platform reflects the creative genius of a tireless, dedicated, multi-disciplinary team,” task force chair Michele Ellison said. “The map cleverly reveals otherwise hidden realities about broadband and health at the county level. We have seen the faces behind this data and we know firsthand what a difference connectivity can make.”

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