By ROBB CROUCH
University of Nebraska Foundation
KEARNEY – Healthy Blue Nebraska is supporting a University of Nebraska at Kearney project focused on the broadband internet disparities that exist in rural Nebraska with a $100,000 gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Affordable, high-speed internet is almost a necessity in today’s world, yet many people in Nebraska and the U.S. still lack access. The Federal Communications Commission estimates 19 million Americans don’t have access to broadband services. Most of these people – 14.5 million – live in rural areas.
Through its Rural Measures project, UNK is examining the digital divide that exists across the state, giving regulatory agencies and internet providers a clearer picture of where broadband infrastructure needs to improve. This is especially important because the internet delivers a wide range of health care services and information while being equally important in education, business and more.
“This donation will provide our rural communities with resources to stay connected, promote health and wellness, and enable emotional and social support,” said Dr. Rob Rhodes, Healthy Blue Nebraska president. “If rural patients have a good internet connection, they can expand their options for medical services and specialists while also saving time and money and avoiding unnecessary travel. Healthy Blue continues to adopt a digital-first approach within the local community and connect with members when they want and how they want it, putting them at the center. Technology is helping close gaps in care and better support members across the state. Connectivity is crucial for continuing education, getting or maintaining a job, and accessing benefits and services.”
The Rural Measures project is led by the College of Business and Technology in collaboration with other areas of UNK.
“We feel for the people in our rural areas who experience poor-quality broadband service,” said Tim Obermier, professor of industrial technology and cyber systems at UNK and a Rural Measures co-leader. “You hear all the time about people who are unable to get good, quality internet service. Because of the ever-increasing need for this technology, it affects people’s lives in substantial ways.”
In a state where roughly 35% of the residents live in rural areas, it’s easy to spot the disparities in broadband internet service, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to do more online from home. This has exposed “gaping holes” in Nebraska’s internet infrastructure, according to Angela Hollman, associate professor of cyber systems at UNK and a Rural Measures co-leader.
“Access to quality internet service directly impacts a lot of people in a lot of ways,” Hollman said. “This has been a big motivator for us to try to figure out how we can help Nebraska solve this problem, so we’re grateful to Healthy Blue Nebraska for its support of this work.”
The Rural Measures project uses a small, in-home device known as a QT (quantitative throughput) to accurately test and report the broadband speeds internet users are experiencing. Participants in the study also complete a survey to provide an even fuller range of information collected on internet service use and experiences. More information about the project is available at ruralmeasures.com.
About Healthy Blue Nebraska
Healthy Blue helps improve health care access and quality for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) members in Nebraska. Healthy Blue serves Nebraskans by developing and delivering innovative care management programs and services. Healthy Blue members are assured care that is not only accessible, but also accountable, comprehensive, integrated and patient-centered. It provides ongoing community relations and outreach to encourage members to become active participants in their health care. For more information, visit www.myhealthybluene.com.