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Community Broadband Easily Explained

Broadband is magic that directly or indirectly enables us to do things we could not do before, or do them more easily.

“What do you mean I had a stroke?!”

On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being dead), I was hovering around a 6 when they rolled me into the emergency room at the end of January. Luckily for me, the stroke didn’t leave my brain deep-fried —just lightly scrambled. Eventually, once I was able to sort up from down, I started thinking about my new book, Building the Gigabit City, Vol 2.
There were times over the past few years when I struggled to portray the seriousness of community broadband without sounding cliché. That’s the trouble with marketing what is, in essence, boring technology. The president had a shot at it, declaring at the end of September that broadband is a “core utility,” like water and electricity.

From the vantage point of my health crisis, it became clear how to present broadband so people could understand the far-reaching, serious consequences of a broadband-influenced community. While I worked through my recovery and rehab, a thought hit me: The process of my recovery would have been limited — if not actually impossible — had I been living in a small, rural or even urban low-income community without broadband.

When someone suffers a stroke, they have three hours to get serious treatment or they often will not recover from its debilitating effects. I was lucky, but a person living alone in a community with bad communications infrastructure can easily fall outside of that three-hour window.

You see, wireless and other technology enable emergency responders to treat the patient while they're still at home — and en route to the hospital. Sufficient broadband makes this possible.

Santa Monica, Calif., CIO Jory Wolf sees broadband as making it possible for patients at the scene of an accident to receive treatment while someone is simultaneously scheduling surgery facilities in different hospitals, and putting people and resources in place while waiting for the final decision on where the patient will end up.

"People, when they arrive, would get through the ER faster or actually go directly to their ultimate treatment area of the hospital,” he said.

Unknown to me at the time, Alameda Hospital in Northern California has a righteous stroke center. The neurologist who runs the center has computers, monitors and a server at her home. When I hit the ER at 10:45 that night, she directed the entire team of five or six doctors and nurses from her home office — she saw everything that they saw, which is a feat highly unlikely in broadband-deprived communities.

After a serious event such as a stroke, the presence of family and friends is valuable in a patient’s recovery. Facebook, Twitter, video clips and audio messages were just what the doctor ordered. All of these communication tools are facilitated by broadband.

If people are left impaired after a serious illness or injury, whether temporarily or permanently, it helps to get them functioning as close to 100 percent as the situation allows — and soon. This is particularly true of the self-employed. Though there were physical limitations to my working, these were easier to deal with thanks to dictation software. Internet capability enabled me to “teach” the software to conform to my business vocabulary. I was able to resume my Gigabit Nation radio show in April, and the broadband capabilities that enabled the shows also allowed me to conduct interviews and research for the book.

My rehab therapists were invaluable, but they couldn’t be there all day. And in order for stroke patients to heal, they must use the affected muscles constantly. A company called Flint Rehabilitation Devices developed MusicGlove — a Guitar Hero-type game that incorporates sensors, software and the Internet. The game tricks your hand into believing it’s actually moving, and in a few weeks, the hand catches on and begins to move on its own.

Dr. Nizan Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Flint, believes broadband has particular value in small rural communities because it bridges the gap to knowledge, medical or otherwise.

“People can access and use applications such as ours,” he says. “Patients can tap into expertise being used by leading medical facilities in the country. Furthermore, with sites such as Twitter and Facebook, collaboration and motivation between patients is now possible. It all helps the healing.”

That “Aha! moment” came I when I summed up the “stroke experience” to friends. Both good and bad, broadband is magic that directly or indirectly enables us to do things we could not do before, or do them more easily, whether in entertainment, health care, education, business, the way we govern ourselves, the way we "do" life.

In many ways, we have no idea what magic we’ll be able to do. But this is why more of our communities must get off their hands and join in the community broadband movement. As Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia said on one of my shows, “We’re not going to have these great creations and opportunities we’ve been promised unless we have the networks that help support those creations.”