Broadband access opens doors to rural networking, economic development


James Collins

looking up at a pole connected to wires

Although many Pennsylvania residents take broadband Internet service for granted, limited access has been an ongoing concern in the state's rural areas. Now, with broadband availability beginning to improve, Penn State researchers are looking closely at its adoption in rural hospitals and government offices, as well as in schools and small businesses.

According to a recent report by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, rural broadband availability is still not universal, and in some places, dial-up remains the only affordable option. While it does offer basic connectivity, dial-up's slower speed and lower bandwidth capacity prevent development of what the report calls "transformative" uses of the Internet.

quot;The Internet makes possible a whole range of processes which involve more than rapid access to information and which range from joint projects by municipalities and collaborations between schools to development of new business processes,quot; explains study co-author and professor of geography Amy Glasmeier. The report calls for proactive policies to facilitate these sorts of uses, rather than simply promoting a faster version of the status quo.

With broadband Internet, for example, rural hospitals could improve patient care by accessing the resources and expertise of their urban counterparts, as well as developing interactive processes such as online appointment scheduling, remote patient monitoring, and videoconferencing between patients and doctors.

quot;Broadband services offer a huge opportunity for rural areas with significant payback in terms of economic development and community revitalization,quot; says Glasmeier. But policy makers need to recognize that there is no single solution to the challenges of broadband utilization, she adds. Individual programs need to be tailored to the specific challenges facing government, education, social services, and business sectors.

Amy Glasmeier, Ph.D., is professor of geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and a co-author of "Broadband Internet Use in Rural Pennsylvania," a report issued by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania in May 2008. The report's co-authors are Chris Benner, associate professor at University of California-Davis; Chandrani Ohdedar, a Ph.D. student in geogrpahy at Penn State; and Lee Carpenter of the Penn State Children, Youth and Families Consortium.

For a summary of the report, visit: http://www.ruralpa.org/broadband2008.pdf.For a complete copy of the report, go to: http://www.ssri.psu.edu/policy/.

Last Updated June 20, 2008