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Rural broadband advantages are more than just movies, TV


DANVILLE, Ind. —High-speed internet service such as broadband is more than watching movies or playing games. It can save a life.

Indiana Rural Health Assoc. Project Coordinator Ally Orwig recounted the case of a farmer who came in to Margaret Mary Community Hospital in Batesville, in the middle of having a stroke. The medicine best suited to dissolving the blood clot, tPA, can only be prescribed by a specialist – but the small-town hospital did not have one.

Thanks to telemedicine and a broadband connection she said doctors were able to get the go-ahead from a distant affiliated specialist and administered tPA in time. Three days later, the patient was back working in his field.

Orwig explained even if the farmer had been loaded into an ambulance and driven to the nearest specialist once he was diagnosed with the stroke, it probably wouldn’t have been in enough time to successfully use the medicine, which must be given within 3-4.5 hours of onset.

“I hope it doesn’t sound too hyperbolic to say it sometimes really is a matter of life and death” to have broadband access, she said.

Orwig was part of one panel at the first state Broadband Summit last week, hosted by the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana State Department of Agriculture and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s office. The five-hour program examined, among other things, quality of life issues related to broadband and their role in keeping and attracting people to non-urban areas.

“We believe that rural Indiana is our next great development frontier,” Crouch said at the outset, pointing out Gov. Eric Holcomb recently announced that $100 million of the state’s Next Level Connections toll revenue is allocated to aid in rural broadband installation.

Orwig said in addition to telemedicine video conferencing, having broadband may attract more doctors to rural areas, even if most specialists tend to stick with bigger-city hospitals. It also opens access to behavioral health providers, of which there is a shortage in rural regions – maybe a psychiatrist can’t be employed in every town, but rural residents with broadband could “have one on every laptop.”

More doctors and reliable telemedicine does make it easier for older people to be able to live in their own homes longer, said Sarah Waddle, state director of the American Assoc. of Retired Persons (AARP) Indiana.

Not only does broadband aid older people’s caregivers with these tools, she said, but having internet in their homes and even care centers helps reduce the isolation and loneliness of old age. High-speed internet empowers the ability to keep in touch with others by email, chat and Skype programs, share photos and watch videos. There are even simple meal-prep delivery services to order online now.

“We age every day, and as we continue to age, you’re going to see more and more people familiar with the internet,” Waddle said, relating her own experience in trying to help her father update his Social Security information online – which he wanted to do – rather than having to drive to the closest office and wait in line. (Because he doesn’t have broadband, they ended up having to go in person.)

And, she added, making it easier for people to live in rural areas keeps their tax dollars in those counties.

On the other end of the age spectrum are young adults who largely grew up with the internet and rely on it in their daily lives, much as people learned to do with electricity and the phone in the 20th century. Tory Flynn, who works for Hillenbrand, Inc. – a global manufacturing company based in rural Batesville – described how she took it for granted there would be broadband service for the house she bought in rural Indiana.

Except when she moved in, she discovered there wasn’t.

“It has been really, really eye-opening,” she said, explaining internet has become a basic daily utility like being able to turn on a faucet or flip a light switch. She had become used to using the internet for everything from paying bills to shopping for clothing and food, listening to music and sharing family photos.

Flynn also noted more of children’s education and homework depends on having high-speed internet both at school and home. “How can you attract, retain and recruit” employees with kids to a rural business if local education access and methods are behind the rest of the world, she asked?

Waddle said surveys show adults 65 and older are placing increasing importance on having internet access at home, and AARP realizes there is big opportunity for educating people who don’t know how to get online, to do so.

Orwig noted younger family members will often help with this, too, and that the needs of everyday life can force anyone to learn on their own. After all, her father – who avoided an early DVD player for years because he didn’t know how to use it – later learned to program his high-tech tractor rather than retire from farming.

“I think everything that’s coming out of this conversation is about keeping the gap between urban and rural from getting wider than it already is,” she said.