Investing in Rural Broadband and 5G Will Benefit Our Communities

At first glance, rural broadband and 5G deployment may not seem like top issues for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. After all, according to a 2015 Census report, 97% of AAPIs live in or near large cities, by far the highest percentage among major ethnic groups.

But given our communities’ remarkable success in promoting cutting-edge industries and strong social justice commitments, improving broadband in rural areas deserves our attention. To see why, look at some of the challenges that confront America’s small towns.   

Access to reliable, affordable broadband is still a challenge for many Americans in rural areas. The result is that millions of rural Americans lack the social or economic benefits of wireless broadband that urban residents often take for granted. Some elderly and disabled residents in small towns can’t use telemedicine services and may consequently lose their ability to live independently. Farmers without mobile broadband can’t take advantage of new technologies that expand crop yields while reducing energy consumption.

Reliable access to broadband will be the foundation for so many improvements to daily life. Take healthcare, for example. America’s rural population is older than the general population. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans over age 65 live in rural communities and “[require] specialized medical and rehabilitation services” according to a recent Census report. The lack of rural broadband calls for greater action to advance deployment and lay the foundation for rural communities to take advantage of the kind of cutting-edge services that 5G connectivity will make possible.

As 5G technology matures, it can help to promote access to the kinds of healthcare services that will enable rural hospitals to improve services while saving money. It can support home monitoring services for heart, circulatory, and blood pressure conditions that quickly notify doctors and specialists if there’s a problem. Currently, every senior living in a rural community is at increased risk of missing critical diagnoses or not reaching a hospital fast enough in an emergency. Improving access to broadband can help to fix this discrepancy while preparing communities and vulnerable populations for the kind of next-generation care they deserve.

The benefits for rural communities go far beyond healthcare. 5G will spur farmers’ demand for wireless monitoring, driverless farm vehicles, and new software that will save money on planting and fertilizing while improving harvests. 5G will also promote access to remote educational opportunities and worker training.

The new demand for technology from a well-connected rural America will have huge benefits for the 21st century industries in which our communities have been successful. The boom will bring increased demand for engineers, software designers, scientists, managers, executives and sales teams.

Beyond these benefits, universal broadband access—including 5G rural coverage—will encourage greater mobility, revitalizing older areas and attracting diversity. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders may be currently concentrated in urban areas, however smaller towns offer attractive living options and reliable broadband would make them more accessible to all.

Outside the high-tech community, the push for expanding rural broadband has created strong bipartisan allies in Congress.

With so much at stake, business and elected leaders should join together in a tangible campaign for rural broadband – OCA stands ready to be a leader in this critical effort.