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Digital Inclusion

Craig Settles: Libraries and Telehealth on the Vanguard for Broadband

Libraries can do for telehealth what they did for broadband: Provide low-income folks with access to digital and healthcare literacy.

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The author of this Expert Opinion in Craig Settles, director of Communities United for Broadband

Libraries are the vanguard of a forces working to close the “healthcare gap.” The FCC’s E-rate broadband grant program for libraries and schools, and the Emergency Broadband Benefit broadband subsidy, collectively are providing over $10 billion immediately. Libraries can leverage these funds to deploy telehealth and broadband to attack the heathcare gap.

Many libraries are moving toward telehealth. Three libraries in Delaware have recently installed telehealth kiosks, Seaford, Milford and Laurel. The Pottsboro, TX public library rolled out their telehealth center in January this year. Several library’s around the country are developing  digital navigators programs to facilitate telehealth.

Lucinda Nord, Executive Director of the Indiana Library Federation says, “In 2020, many courts required virtual online attendance. To help patrons, librarians learned effective virtual meeting skills that will help us expedite telehealth. We partnered with state agencies to train over 1,000 library employees to help residents apply for unemployment, SNAP, and health coverage.” In the process, these libraries acquired resources critical for telehealth.

The healthcare as well as the broadband gap exists in the rural areas, but the media, policymakers, and politicians have selective myopia when it comes to urban broadband and by default, telehealth. 

Libraries and telehealth attack the healthcare gap

There are over 12 million homes in urban America that cannot get neither broadband nor telehealth. 75 percent of those are homes of African-Americans or other people of color. Countless millions of others homes technically have broadband, but in reality it is a pathetic attempt at coverage that lacks the strength to carry telehealth into enough homes.                           

Libraries can do for telehealth what they did for broadband: provide low-income folks with access to the technology, drive adoption, and facilitate digital and healthcare literacy. With FCC funding plus the Institute of Museums and Library Services’ $200 million, libraries get a running start on making a difference. Urban libraries have to push hard for grant equity!      

Telehealth isn’t just chats with physicians, it’s using intranets and Internet networks to do everything medical that gets you and keeps you healed. Telehealth brings digital equity to the healthcare gap. This gap is abundantly prevalent in among people of color.

Analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation show 33 percent of Hispanic women and 31 percent of African-American men don’t have a regular doctor. According to the CDC, six out of 10 people in the U.S. suffer from a chronic disease, four out of 10 people suffer from two. Diabetes is 60 percent more common in African Americans and the men are 50 percent more likely to get lung cancer. Twice as many African Americans would die as all the other ethnic groups combined.

Libraries exist to help

FCC started the Emergency Broadband Benefit of $3.2 billion, which will be available until expended or until six months after the COVID-19 emergency declaration expires. The EBB provides eligible low-income households with a monthly $50 discount for broadband service from participating providers, as well as a one-time $100 discount on an internet-enabled device. 

EBB recipients are potential telehealth users and patrons needing training and digital literacy. “At a minimum, we know libraries will want to have the information handy to respond to any requests,” says Larra Clark, Deputy Director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association.

Digital navigators are a major force in moving people over the digital literacy hurdle, and often they are hired from the disadvantaged neighborhood that the libraries serve. Shauna Edson, Digital Inclusion Coordinator Salt Lake City Public Library, And she is partnering with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance shaping a national digital navigator program.

“Locally, our digital navigators problem solve and help connect people to the appropriate free or low-cost resources such a Chromebook or a laptop,” she says. “We have mostly beginner computer users wanting to use Zoom for workshops and communicating with friends and families. There are some organizations focusing on this navigator model just for telehealth support.”

Decide navigators, expect quite a few large libraries will seek funding to convert study rooms into telehealth rooms at least for part of the week, and small libraries are considering buying telehealth kiosks to compensate for the limited spaces. Wi-Fi hotspots became particularly popular during the pandemic and telehealth will make them even more so. 

Quite a few libraries will want to tap into these grant programs to build out their physical space to support telehealth, and also boost their broadband capabilities. Micheal McKerley, CTO at ENA says, “Libraries need that data traffic to be segmented and not be sniffable by hackers. That segmentation may or may not require new broadband infrastructure, but it may need a network assessment. Even you don’t need new equipment, you might need a re-design.”

“A lot of libraries right now are struggling to keep up with everything that’s going on,” says Henry Stokes, Library Technology Consultant at Texas State Library and Archives. “But as libraries move forward and they see their peers push out telehealth initiatives, we’ll see healthcare become even prominently featured in libraries. Telehealth is such a great fit!” And telehealth will drive broadband like there’s no tomorrow.

Craig Settles conducts needs analyses with community stakeholders who want broadband networks to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. He hosts the radio talk show Gigabit Nation, and is Director of Communities United for Broadband, a national grass roots effort to assist communities launching their networks. He recently created a guide to help librarians uncover patrons’ healthcare needs, create community health milestones and effectively market telehealth. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

Craig Settles conducts needs analyses with community stakeholders who want broadband networks to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. He hosts the radio talk show Gigabit Nation, and is Director of Communities United for Broadband, a national grass roots effort to assist communities launching their networks. He recently created a guide to help librarians uncover patrons’ healthcare needs, create community health milestones and effectively market telehealth.

Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.

“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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Digital Inclusion

As Senate Passes Infrastructure Measure, Non-Profit Groups Push for Digital Equity Bill of Rights

Join Sunne Wright McPeak at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday for a discussion about the push for digital equity.

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Photo of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, a sponsor of the Digital Equity Act

August 10, 2021—A petition calling for a Digital Equity Bill of Rights to inspire policymakers to craft sustainable, affordable solutions to bridging the digital divide has garnered more than 100 groups and 2,000 individuals signing on to the proposal. The petition, led by the California Emerging Technology Fund, was released prior to a bipartisan vote on infrastructure legislation in the Senate on Tuesday.

Portions of the Digital Equity Act of 2021, S. 2018 sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, originally introduced in 2019 and reintroduced in June, are likely to be included in the final infrastructure bill.

“The future of our next generation and America’s ability to compete globally is at stake,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of CETF, which has been focused for 15 years now on bridging the digital divide.

Join Sunne Wright McPeak and Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark for Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, 12 Noon ET, on “A Call for a Digital Equity Bill of Rights.”

Much like the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights that most Americans are familiar with, the Digital Equity Bill of Rights also had 10 amendments designed to provide future legislation with a framework of rights.

The first enumerated right states that “all residents have the right to broadband that is sufficient and reliable.” It explains that speed standards should not be pigeonholed to a specific rate—rather, they must be sufficient for all people to support distance learning, telehealth, and remote work “by a majority of households online simultaneously with an increasing need for symmetrical network speeds.”

Other amendments include ones that state that broadband should be affordable, improve quality of life, attract investment, and enables participation in democracy. Though the conversation surrounding such a bill of rights is nothing new, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is evident in the bill’s wording. McPeak and CETF have argued that digital access is a “21st Century Civil Right” for more than a decade.

“To close the digital divide there has to be digital inclusion and everything that we do, because the outcome is getting to digital equity,” McPeak explained to Broadband Breakfast; digital equity is the result of making sure that everyone has access to affordable Internet and computing devices, and gets the training needed to compete in the 21st Century global economy.

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