Coronavirus Fight Shows Need for Broadband Infrastructure

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Recent school closures and remote-work directives intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 will have a harsher impact on rural Missourians than their urban and suburban peers. The precautions against this highly contagious virus are understandable and probably the right call. However, implementing the “digital distancing” will be much more difficult in rural Missouri than in cities.

Over one million rural residents in Missouri do not have access to high-speed internet, more than any state except California or Texas. Missouri ranks 41st in the nation in broadband connectivity.

The lack of rural internet connectivity causes plenty of day-to-day frustrations. But in a crisis like the current fight against coronavirus, the impact becomes even more glaring.

Several schools, including the University of Missouri, have suspended in-person classes. Many current courses will be held remotely via teleconferencing technology. Students will be expected to work on projects remotely and submit homework and take tests electronically. Many businesses are developing contingency plans that include employees working remotely. Travel can often be replaced with teleconferencing and virtual meetings. Email and paperless technologies allow information-sharing without physical, in-person contact.

Technological advances enabled by broadband internet technology are valuable in our current fight. They let schools and businesses implement recommended “social distancing” without major disruption. Unfortunately, access to broadband is a limiting factor for rural students and employees. Working or studying remotely is only an option only if you have access to broadband.

Developing broadband infrastructure throughout Missouri would help rural residents follow the best health practices during future crises. Rural broadband would also bring more options for treating patients through remote telemedicine. When keeping doctors healthy is the top priority, giving them options to assess and treat patients remotely is valuable. It would also help solve the chronic shortage of physicians faced by many rural areas.

In the face of a global pandemic, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. However, we look forward to the day when remote access to school, work, and healthcare is available to everyone, not only those who live in a city or town. We should see this event as a wake-up call to expand our infrastructure so that staying connected and healthy while at home is easier in the future.

Source: Missouri Farm Bureau Federation

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