More Broadband Needed to Address Rural Mainers' Health Needs
Thursday, November 10, 2022
For older Mainers living in rural areas of the state, access to reliable and affordable internet service can mean the difference between life and death.
The pandemic exposed how crucial telehealth services have become, especially for people who are homebound, or lack reliable transportation or support networks.
As younger generations leave rural Maine for jobs elsewhere, AARP Maine State Director Noël Bonam said older residents without a reliable internet connection can face loneliness and social isolation, which puts them at greater risk for depression, dementia and even suicide.
"We know that when people actually connect with their loved ones in a meaningful manner," said Bonam, "it actually helps them to feel healthy and to actually feel like they're living a life that is meaningful."
Maine has the oldest population in the U.S, and tens of thousands of Mainers are expected to retire in the coming years.
Bonam said expanding broadband to more rural areas could mean younger generations may decide to stay.
The website 'Broadband Now' estimates 15% of Maine households are without internet access.
The effort to expand Maine's high-speed broadband network has been compared to the rural electrification programs of the 1930s.
Some $110 million in federal funding, along with additional state money, represents a tenfold increase over any past investment in broadband infrastructure.
Bonam said Maine's senior population will benefit from the greater social and economic opportunities it can bring.
"Think of broadband as a network," said Bonam, "a highway network of roads connecting towns. If you don't have broadband to a certain town, you don't have a road to a certain town."
Nearly 20% of Mainers over age 65 live in poverty. But the Federal Communication Commission offers discounts of up to $30 per month per household on internet bills, and up to $75 a month for households on qualifying Tribal lands, where service is available.
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