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Federal Communications Commission and Media Must Combat Black Mental Health Crisis



Screenshot of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman from the webcast

July 13, 2020 — Recent data from a survey launched by the federal government, originally intended to trace the effects of the coronavirus, has revealed that anxiety and depression rates among Black Americans have spiked disproportionately in the weeks following the widely-circulated video of George Floyd’s death.

The proportion of Black Americans battling anxiety and depression has risen from 36 percent to 41 percent, an increase amounting to roughly 1.4 million individuals.

Demonstrations and civic unrest, as well as the ongoing pandemic’s disproportionate toll on minority communities, have exacerbated existing disparities in mental health, as rates of anxiety and depression have remained relatively stable among white Americans.

In a virtual event on Monday, entitled “Thriving While Black: The Role of Media and Communications Technology in Addressing Black Mental Health,” panelists called attention to the growing Black mental health crisis in America.

Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks opened the event, speaking of the trauma shared by members of the Black American community and describing common “emotions of fear, frustration, and most of all, hope.”

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, noted that the task at hand is a challenging one because “mental health in general has had a stigma in our communities.”

This stigma is one that the panelists are working diligently to overcome.

As the FCC is set to vote on finalizing a three-digit National Suicide Hotline on Thursday, it is clear that there is a distinct for the agency to play in conversations regarding universal access and content creation, panelists said.

Communities that lack access to electronic devices and broadband connections lack the resources necessary for critical mental telehealth services.

Panelists noted that minority groups are disproportionately vulnerable to both mental health conditions and internet inequality.

The telecommunications sector is uniquely situated to not only connect Black Americans to vital health resources, but also to educate the masses about Black experiences.

Screenshot of Nicol Turner-Lee, director of the Center of Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution

Constant exposure to images of Black individuals being harassed and murdered can cause great trauma for Black Americans, said Nicol Turner-Lee, senior fellow in governance studies and director of the Center of Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

Media lacks images of Black men and women simply existing, she said.

As individuals look to media to make sense of the world around them, Noopur Agarwal, vice president of social impact at ViacomCBS, argued that media and entertainment companies have crucial roles in providing diverse representations and working to destigmatize mental health in Black communities.

She detailed the effects of one scene from a popular VH1 series, which follows the journey of a predominantly Black cast.

In the episode, a cast member opens up to his loved ones about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. His friends and family rally around him, offering their support. The character goes on to seek professional help.

This kind of representation has positive effects, Agarwal said.

“It helped normalize the experience of depression and it showed viewers dealing with mental health that they are not alone,” she explained.

The night the episode aired, it inspired 20,000 people to immediately seek help, she said.

“Social media posts related to the story generated 5 million video views and 200,000 engagements outpouring support,” said Agarwal, adding that this is just one example of the powerful impact entertainment media can have in formulating ideology.

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, attributed increasing depression and suicide rates among Black LGBTQ+ youth to a lack of representation, stating that “young people rely upon seeing reflections of themselves through media.”

“What we know about Black LGBTQ+ youth in particular is that 70 percent have reported having depression in the last 12 months, 35 percent have considered suicide, and 19 percent reported having attempted suicide in the past year,” he said.

Screenshot of David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition

A further explanation for these statistics is that mental health care providers aren’t trained to respond to intersectional trauma, Johns added.

Yet another contributing factor is the criminalization of Black youth, said Michael Lindsey, executive director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

“Often Black children are suspended from school because of behavior that is addressable through mental health treatment,” he said.

Lindsey referenced the “push-out phenomena,” or how young Black girls are disproportionately expelled from schools due to their behavior being perceived as more aggressive and defiant than similar actions from their white counterparts, resulting from ingrained racist prejudices.

Lindsey found that in lieu of being treated for mental health concerns, Black children are often disproportionately suspended, which only exacerbates existing conditions.

The number of mental health providers in schools should be proportionate to the number of students, he suggested.

“It is often the case that in communities of color [that] there is not an available mental health professional,” he said.

In conclusion, Turner-Lee called for panelists to utilize social media in order to “have conversations with people that would not typically come to these tables.”

Starks pledged to continue fighting to expand the FCC’s Lifeline Program, which works to subsidize phones for low income individuals, and could potentially help many Black Americans access mental health resources.

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Expert Opinion

Craig Settles: Communities to Roll Out Telehealth Integration

‘We figured out how to train people to be digital navigators [and] get customers comfortable with telehealth.’



The author of this Expert Opinion is Craig Settles, who unites community broadband teams and healthcare stakeholders through telehealth-broadband integration initiatives.

A pacesetter among municipal broadband owners, the City of Chattanooga is giving away 1,000 free telehealth appointments that also brings broadband into low-income homes. Vistabeam, a Nebraska Wireless ISP, is bringing telehealth to rural towns through Community Empowerment Centers that increase broadband as well as improve residents’ health. 

“The Enterprise Center works hard at the intersection of technology and inequality, whether it’s using technology to work efficiency, for learning, or improving personal health,” states CEO Deb Socia. The center is partnering with residents, community organizations and the Parkridge Medical System to identify needs and bring in resources to combat high levels of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and asthma. 

Vistabeam owner Matt Larsen says, “You can’t just lay down some fiber and routers, then call this a broadband success. Rural areas often lack the human and tech resources necessary for broadband to thrive.” So Vistabeam is designing Community Empowerment Centers to offer communities private telehealth consultation rooms, digital skills and telehealth training, full-time digital navigators and inventory rooms with shared computing devices and equipment.

These and other communities are finding that telehealth increases broadband adoption as well as improves the physical and economic health of residents. Telehealth is the “killer app” that can harness and focus broadband investments into digital inclusions advancements for urban and rural communities.  

A perfect storm for telehealth

Chattanooga’s public broadband network, through a city electric power board that offers both electricity and broadband, is an advantage to telehealth. Socia says, “EPB has a deep connection to the community, and they invest money, technology in public spaces, and energy upgrades in the homes. EPB cares about the health of our community.” (EPB, formerly known as the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, provides broadband in the city.) Communities without public broadband may have to work harder to find large ISPs with similar levels of commitment.

Communities wanting to leverage telehealth likely will need new strategies for winning and managing grants. You can’t have telehealth without broadband, but the integration of broadband to facilitate telehealth delivery may involve a myriad of people, organizations, and resources besides the network builder. 

For years Chattanooga has had a culture of cooperation among its many civic groups. The nonprofit Orchard Knob had a preexisting collaborative, so when the telehealth opportunity came up as part of a larger “healthy community” initiative, it was it much easier to create a grant of the size that the group currently has.

The community created the Orchard Knob Collaborative, which includes Parkridge Medical Center with their 1000 telehealth appointments, the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area and United Way of Greater Chattanooga. EPB contributed money, energy upgrades, and public WiFi. Green Spaces is another nonprofit and the Center provides project management plus various Tech Goes Home digital inclusion programs.

Telehealth opens the door for larger grants. “I think the anticipated grant-raising outcomes are quite specific when you’re producing social determinants of health,” Socia says. “Projects that involve telehealth are a much tougher ‘ask’ for funders and everyone else involved. But at the same time, you can leverage other additional dollars and other partners for a much better healthcare outcome.” 

Telehealth and the ‘human element’

Every state is developing a digital equity plan. How important is telehealth to the success of a digital equity plan? Quite important! But remember that telehealth deployment strategy in rural communities likely could take shape differently than urban deployment. Vistabeam’s Centers represent one approach.

Digital equity in telehealth is just one component of a giant ecosystem of social services that good societies use to help take care of people. The challenge is the need to successfully coordinate scarce resources to get maximum impact from the resources. However, in rural communities there can be a real lack of coordination between a lot of these resources.

“It makes sense to start out by focusing on getting telehealth into some smaller communities at locations where people can come in and access telehealth in an environment that develops trust and familiarity with the technology,” says Larsen. “To do that, we’re going to need a ‘human element’, facilitators such as digital navigators to plug community telehealth into the ecosystem. A lot of rural communities have trust issues with government programs.”

Using surplus office space to create customer service centers

There are plenty of large incumbents’ mobile device showrooms in communities. But these employees tend to be sales-oriented with scripted content. Vistabeam happens to have surplus office space they are using to create true customer service centers.

“We figured out how to train people to be digital navigators, we get customers comfortable with telehealth and our staff connects people with complementary social services and other resources,” says Larsen. For the last few months, Vistabeam has been promoting exclusively the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program of free Internet access and subsidized computing devices. There’s a complex enrollment process residents have to complete that’s confusing for many, so Vistabeam trained staff to walk people through the process, get them qualified, and connected.  

As for the potential of telehealth deployment to the home, Larsen believes the technology represents a tremendous amount of potential utility and value for both rural and urban broadband deployments. Though broadband is currently underutilized for telehealth, in large part because communities are just beginning to plan for it, the pandemic revealed a burning need for strong video streaming capacities to bridge doctors and patients.

“What’s missing is a telehealth killer app or device,” says Larsen. “I believe preventive healthcare will be the answer – technology that detects or prevents things from happening before they become big problems. This app could be a way to check vital statistics and watch for health or illness markers. Maybe we’ll see a device connected to the Internet that accesses research data to help you and your health professional with health planning.”  

Just about everybody gets sick or hurt, or they are responsible for others when those loved ones aren’t doing well. Telehealth and its many iterations are designed for people to use when they’re sick or hurt or for preventative healthcare. The universality of telehealth and its symbiotic relationship with broadband technologies give communities great potential for expanding digital inclusion. Together with the bezillion grant dollars coming out the ying yang, what we’re seeing is the perfect digital storm. 

Craig Settles conducts needs analyses, planning, and grant assessments with community stakeholders who want broadband networks and telehealth to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’



Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Has Benefits, But Also Challenges That Must Be Rectified: Experts

The technology needs to be examined to ensure it doesn’t create inequities in healthcare, panel hears.



Screenshot of the Atlantic event in late June

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2022 – While the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare has been lauded by some, experts said at an Atlantic event late last month they are concerned that inaccurate data can also hamper progress in the field.

Artificial intelligence has been used widely across the medical field to analyze relationships between medical providers and patients to improve equality of care, including providing patient risk identification, diagnostics, drug discovery and development, transcribing medical documents, and remotely treating patients.

Carol Horowitz, founder of the Mt. Sinai Institute of Health and Equity Research, argued that while AI plays a substantial role in diagnosing health problems at earlier stages, diagnosing patients more quickly, providing second opinions in diagnoses, enhancing scheduling abilities, stimulating hospital workflow, and finding drug availability for a patient as in dermatology, therapeutics, or population health, it’s not a golden ticket.

She reasoned that it “can reflect and really exaggerate inequities in our system,” negatively affecting healthcare equity among patients.

She stated that AI tools have led to inaccurate measurements in data that have proved harmful to individuals’ health. Horowitz shared the example of faulty AI technology during March 2020 meant to allow individuals to self-monitor their own oxygen levels as a precautionary method to the COVID-19 pandemic but led to inaccurate pulse readings for those with darker skin, and inaccurate data gathering, resulting in delayed treatment for many in need.

Michael Crawford, associate dean for strategy of outreach and innovation at Howard University, added that if these certain mismeasurements and flaws in the technology are not addressed, “AI could increase disparities in health care.”

Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said when it comes to assessing AI technology innovation for the future, there are both cost and benefits, but we must find “where can we move forward in ways that don’t harm human society but that maximize human benefits.”

As we grapple with how to implement this technology, “we must do science and technology policy that always has equity at the center” for future innovation, said Nelson.

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