By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
How many problems can broadband Internet access solve?
U.S. television news commentator Tom Brokaw, a native of South Dakota, wrote a compelling essay in the New York Times several years ago, asking why his home state and North Dakota, with a population of 1.5 million, maintained some 17 institutes of higher education. He noted that it was “a carry-over from the early 20th century when travel was more difficult and farm families wanted their children close by during harvest season.”
He posed a very rational question: “Couldn’t the two states get a bigger bang for their higher education buck if they consolidated their smaller institutions into, say, the Dakota Territory College System, with satellite campuses but a common administration and shared standards?”
You could pose the same question for a variety of public-sector and health-care entities across America — especially in rural areas, as ongoing depopulation trends result in a loss of doctors, teachers, and other key professionals.
It’s a growing crisis in underdeveloped areas, such as parts of Africa and Asia, where they’ve had long-standing difficulties getting the required resources into their at-risk communities.
Broadband as an Out-of-the-Box Solution
Brokaw was suggesting an out-of-the-box solution, something it takes vision to apply to a tough problem. But applying the deployment of broadband technology to the potential absence of services in rural and underdeveloped areas solves a lot of problems. Consider these examples, all situations where the lack of professionals stifles economic development:
- remote education
- medical file-sharing
- remote diagnoses
- robotic surgery
- courtroom representation via TelePresence
A New Model of Efficiency
The problem is, doing so means creating — in the case of the U.S. — a new model of government efficiency. It would take a great deal of political courage to move the United States from its agrarian roots to the 21st century efficiency that broadband applications could provide.
It would involve wholesale realignment of municipalities and services and a loss of public-sector jobs through consolidation. But it would also offer increased freedom of job location and retirement living, because professional services would be more readily available, whether one was retiring to Mexico, Missouri (population ~ 11,500), or Mexico City.
Elsewhere in the world, it means creating a professional structure from scratch, which may or may not be easier than revising an established one. But by deploying broadband everywhere, and ensuring access for doctors, teachers, and lawyers, it would give a lot of countries more flexibility in serving their populace — and perhaps make them a more desirable location for such professionals.
Only by combining broadband with some imaginative thinking — both on the part of U.S. and international politicians — can someone realign how public sector and health-care services are delivered. Otherwise, first-world and third-world countries face a future in which neither can serve their citizens effectively.
IP Next-Generation Networks are now being deployed by forward-looking service providers in all the regions of the globe. Do you have an example, in your part of the world, where broadband is being utilized to enable radical changes — with the intent to dramatically improve efficiencies?
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