Blog & News
Tracking Broadband Access to Monitor Access to CareAugust 4, 2021:
The dramatic growth of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the crucial role of broadband access in ensuring that people can obtain healthcare services. Broadband has allowed individuals to leverage telehealth technology to receive care from providers in ways that minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission while eliminating certain access barriers regarding transportation and/or travel time. However, individuals who lack access to broadband services can face healthcare inequities as they are unable to utilize virtual services. Although COVID-19 vaccination rates are on the rise across the United States, the resurgence of cases due to the Delta variant of COVID-19 may lead to more required virtual visits. In addition, virtual access to care will remain important for individuals who live in rural areas, have transportation or mobility limitations, or otherwise would have difficulty visiting a care provider in person, even after the pandemic subsides.
Broadband Access Across the Country
Despite the important role of broadband access in obtaining virtual healthcare services, not everyone lives in a household that has broadband. Estimates from a SHADAC analysis of the American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files indicate that in 2019, 86.3 percent of families nationwide had access to broadband in their households.1 Among the states, household broadband access ranged from a high of 91.2 percent in Washington to a low of 76.9 percent in Mississippi.1 Higher rates of broadband access are clustered in states on the West Coast and the Northeast shore. States that have more rural populations tend to have lower access to broadband, with a concentration of limited access in the Southeast.1
Broadband Access in Minnesota: Above Average, with Plans to Expand
In Minnesota, 87.9 percent of households had access to broadband in their homes in 2019, placing the state higher than the national average and with the 14th highest access to broadband across the states.1 However, the nearly 12 percent of Minnesota households that do not have broadband access also tend to face other factors that can reduce access to healthcare, like living in less dense counties, which tend to have fewer medical providers and require patients to travel farther to access medical facilities.2 In order to improve healthcare accessibility in these areas, Minnesota legislators have agreed to invest an additional $70 million in broadband coverage expansion through the Border-to-Border grant program.3 This program assists with infrastructure installation costs that broadband providers may experience when offering services to an area that has been historically unserved or underserved.3 While this grant program is not expected to expand broadband services to every household in Minnesota, it is one of the largest investments in broadband access in the state since 2014.3
Broadband internet has been vital for accessing healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not every family in the U.S. has access to broadband, and this lack of access is distributed unevenly among the states. Less than 80 percent of households in Mississippi and New Mexico (76.9 percent and 78.9 percent, respectively) have broadband access while over 90% of households in Utah, Colorado, and Washington (90.5 percent, 91.1 percent, and 91.2 percent, respectively) have access to broadband internet.1 As telehealth continues to play a role in getting needed services to individuals who face barriers to obtaining care in person, it is important to monitor broadband access as an indicator of access to care.
About the Data
The data cited here can be accessed through SHADAC’s online data tool, State Health Compare, using the measure “Percent of households with a broadband internet subscription” for the years 2016-2019. The estimates come from SHADAC’s analysis of the American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS).
1 Percent of households with a broadband internet subscription. State Health Compare, SHADAC, University of Minnesota website. http://statehealthcompare.shadac.org/map/232/percent-of-households-with-a-broadband-internet-subscription-by-total#a/27/266. Accessed July 21, 2021.
2 Estimated availability of wireline broadband service by county in the state of Minnesota—Areas served by at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. Connected Nation. https://mn.gov/deed/assets/county-bb-service-availability_tcm1045-255846.pdf. Published April 2021. Accessed July 21, 2021.
3 Orenstein W. Minnesota lawmakers agree to spend $70 million on improving broadband access across the state. MinnPost. June 1, 2021. https://www.minnpost.com/greater-minnesota/2021/06/minnesota-lawmakers-agree-to-spend-70-million-on-improving-broadband-access-across-the-state/. Accessed July 21, 2021.