Advancing Broadband Access with the Imagine Idaho Coalition
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have had the privilege of working remotely, taking online classes, and receiving health care services to address our everyday needs. Although many of us could continue our lives in a new normal, the pandemic exacerbated disparities for those who did not have strong and reliable broadband connectivity.
In Idaho, more than 300,000 Idahoans are without access to a wired connection capable of 25 mbps download speeds. Even worse, 100,000 Idahoans do not have any wired internet providers where they live. With the COVID-19 pandemic magnifying the connectivity gap, continued advancements in broadband infrastructure are critical to dismantle inequities and ensure everyone has the opportunity to receive the next generation of health care services.
Since the start of the pandemic, hospitals and health systems were forced to conserve beds for the most critically ill patients. Health care services like home-based care models and telehealth grew rapidly in popularity and utilization.
Not only are investments in broadband infrastructure needed to provide high-quality of care for remote and in-home care models, but to eliminate the digital divide in rural communities. When business leaders and policymakers do not work together, we continue to perpetuate disparities and underserve those who reside in rural areas.
So, how did Idaho leaders overcome this challenge?
Envisioning a more connected Idaho
Business leaders and policymakers sought to address this need by supporting the advancement of broadband access so all Idahoans can live, learn and connect from anywhere. In 2020, Imagine Idaho was launched with a mission to educate, coalesce and leverage community leadership throughout the state to ensure every Idahoan has access to reliable and affordable broadband.
As the pandemic accelerated the demand for health care services that move care away from traditional facilities, Regence BlueShield of Idaho, the Joe and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, Innovia Foundation, and the Micki and Dan Chapin Fund with Idaho Community Foundation were among the first to recognize this need and support Imagine Idaho’s cause.
Since its inception, the non-profit organization has convened over 50 business, philanthropic, community and policy leaders to address and solve the broadband infrastructure issue.
Imagine Idaho Coalition members including Regence BlueShield of Idaho, the Idaho Hospital Association, the Idaho School Boards Association and others continue to identify and advocate for policy solutions that advance broadband access for all Idahoans.
“Community health centers serve the most rural and frontier communities throughout Idaho,” said Kyle Rooks, policy and communications director for the Idaho Community Health Center Association.
“Reliable broadband is critical for accessing medical records in a timely fashion. The Idaho Community Health Center Association is in full support of the Imagine Idaho collaboration. High speed broadband access throughout Idaho will ensure better health outcomes for all our patients, especially those in the frontier communities,” Rooks added.
The age of digital innovation
Although Idaho has become one of the fastest growing states in the nation, it ranks 45th out of 50 states in the strength of overall broadband infrastructure. Continued leadership from policymakers and business members across the state is essential to address this need and ensure so no one is left behind in the age of digital innovation.
Later this week, The Regence Health Policy Center will release a list of policy recommendations to advance the adoption of home-based care models with broadband infrastructure being one of them.
Rural communities are reliant on strong and reliable broadband to access alternative models of care when facilities are inaccessible. These investments are necessary, so everyone has equitable access to health, social and educational opportunities to improve their quality of life.
States must continue to prioritize, invest and work together to build the infrastructure that delivers reliable, high-speed internet for all citizens no matter where they live.