FCC launches tool to compare broadband with health data

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The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday released a web-based mapping tool that displays broadband access, adoption and speed data next to health measures—such as obesity, diabetes, disabilities and physician access—at the county level, including comparisons between urban and rural areas.

According to FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force, the interactive digital maps are valuable for federal, state and local agencies, as well as private sector users, to identify connectivity gaps between rural and urban counties that have led to negative health outcomes.

“The map cleverly reveals otherwise hidden realities about broadband and health at the county level,” said Michele Ellison, chair of the Connect2Health Task Force. “We have seen the faces behind this data, and we know firsthand what a difference connectivity can make.”

As the FCC points out, the state of health is very different for those living in in connected communities versus digitally isolated locales. For example, counties where 60 percent of households lack access to broadband have higher rates of diabetes and obesity ((35 percent and 25 percent higher, respectively).

In addition, the Commission reported that almost 60 percent of rural Americans live in counties with elevated levels 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.

The FCC said its mapping tool focuses on counties for three reasons:

• County level data is available across various types of health categories (such as diabetes, obesity, preventable hospitalizations) and connectivity benchmarks, enabling apples-to-apples comparisons.

• Counties are a discrete geographic unit that can potentially drive broadband economies and local health policy (for example, they are neither too broad or too granular).

• Counties are the building blocks for publishing many types of data (such as economic) and for tracking progress and regional population and economic trends.

The Mapping Broadband Health in America tool will “enable and inform more efficient, data-driven decision making at the intersection of broadband and health,” states the FCC announcement. “By allowing users to ask and answer questions about broadband and health at the county and census block levels, the tool provides critical data that can help drive broadband health policies and connected health solutions for this critical space.”

The FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force is seeking feedback from the public on how it can improve the mapping tool. Comments can be submitted for the record via the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System, GN Docket 16-91.

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