The Center for Rural Strategies reached out to NOSORH to find out if SORHs could help identify people who have used Lifeline phones to improve their lives.  These stories will help encourage the FCC and Congress to offer affordable broadband service to low-income Americans.

Most of us are able to pick up a home phone or reach for a cell phone to schedule a doctor’s appointment. But, millions of people across the country are unable to afford telephone service. Thankfully, our government recognized the importance of having a telephone and created the Lifeline Program in 1985 – a federal program that helps low-income individuals pay for landline telephone service. The program was then expanded to include wireless telephone service in 2005. Today, the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. From staying in touch with loved ones to paying bills, and from applying for a job to finding a healthcare provider, the Internet is pivotal. Because Internet service has become a basic necessity, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing to expand the Lifeline program to help low-income Americans pay for Internet service.

As agencies tasked with the goal to help rural communities build health care delivery systems, you – the members of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health – already understand the importance of connecting both healthcare institutions and rural residents to the Internet. Rural healthcare providers use Internet access to monitor patients’ vital signs, deliver medication, disseminate health information, contact patients for follow-up appointments, and many other innovative practices. Being connected to the Internet enables rural healthcare providers to offer better services to their patients.

The Internet has allowed rural patients, in particular younger cohorts, to become more engaged drivers of their own health by researching signs and symptoms of potential illnesses. Aging cohorts and populations dependent on home health services or who lack access to transportation are able to shrink distances and access healthcare services directly from their home, thanks to the Internet. However, even in rural areas where Internet access is available, the prohibitive cost of the service robs low-income rural patients of the opportunity to optimize their health. This gap in affordability creates a gap in health. As our society increasingly relies on the Internet to communicate, it is critical that rural healthcare providers and patients are able to connect to each other. Lifeline can help low-income rural patients overcome the cost that keeps them from accessing the Internet as a tool to optimize their health.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group supports the FCC’s proposal to offer Internet service via the Lifeline program so that low-income Americans can access this essential tool. We are working to convey the importance of affordable Internet service for rural patients, and we would like to enlist your help. We are writing comments in support of this policy and will welcome endorsements soon. In addition, the FCC needs to hear from as many rural voices as possible, and you can submit your own comments on the proposal to offer Internet service via Lifeline by Monday, August 17.

Finally, if you have a story about how you can better serve your patients if they have Internet service OR about a patient that could benefit from a program that helps them pay for Internet service, please share it with us! Please contact Danielle King, the Rural Broadband Policy Group Coordinator, with your stories and input about why rural patients need affordable Internet service. Danielle can also help you figure out how to submit comments to the FCC. With your help, we hope to ensure rural Americans are able to access the tools that help them take charge of their health, and in today’s world, Internet service is one of those tools.

Please reach Danielle at danielle@ruralstrategies.org or by phone at (606) 632-3244.

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