- Who We Are
- What We Do
- Contact Us
- Current Events
Volume 54, Number 2 Spring 2021
Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi
Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research
Each quarter, we will continue to introduce members of the Early Career Interest Group. Learn more about our members and explore possibilities for research collaboration and community practice.
My journey begins with learning to go with the flow when opportunities present themselves. During my Bachelors degree at California State University, Chico, the final semester required me to complete a specialized writing course; and the only open seat was in CP. This was the most empowering and grueling semester of my senior year, which also fostered my innate passion for human well-being. On the last day of this degree, with no future ideas of how to explore this field, I successfully applied to a Master’s program.
With the support of my peers, I made another immediate decision to submit my research proposal to SCRA. While presenting my project on adolescent relationships around school gardens in 2019, I felt the surrounding camaraderie and encouragement of these diverse members, realizing I found my home base. During the pandemic, I have been a “sponge” blessed with opportunities to learn from others, network with multiple organizations, and heighten my skills as a researcher. Currently, I’m still searching for career opportunities to utilize my skills as a community-focused researcher. So in the meantime, I will excitedly continue the adventure exploring with ECIG!
Photo credit: Wokandapix/Pixabay
Written by Jordan Tackett, student, Christopher Nettles, Tendai Buddhist Institute, and Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research
When it comes to using the internet at home, not all communities have equal access. Nine in ten adults used the internet in 2019; with 97% of adults ages 18 to 49 and 98% of college graduates using the internet. A usage breakdown by community types reveals 91% of urban dwellers, 94% of suburban residents, and 85% of those living in rural areas require internet service (Pew Research Center, 2019). This data indicates despite the high percentage of usage across community types, internet insufficiency in rural and underserved communities reveals significant disparities.
There is much debate over the efficiency of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), whose sole purpose is to calculate, initiate and regulate the efficacy of broadband in the United States (FCC, 2020). Their reports forecast the attention and financial allocations given to our communities in order to provide the most appropriate broadband speeds for current internet use. Currently, this use is experiencing a massive increase due to the pandemic.
In total, 46 million Americans live in rural areas which face difficulties accessing broadband networks for medical and mental health services (Andrilla et al., 2018; Fullen et al., 2020; Summers-Gabr, 2020), remote education and work (Benda et al., 2020; Gurung & Stone, 2020), social bonding and recreation during a pandemic, safe distance shopping (Benda et al., 2020), or any other reason people utilize the internet.
The authors of this article all live in California and have some direct experience with these issues within their own communities. We will refer to California in this piece, yet understand that these internet disparities, and the associated cascading effects apply to many other rural and/or underrepresented communities, and to those in the wildland/urban interface. Access to telehealth services, the remote economy, and to online shopping represent just a few of the disparities exacerbated by lack of internet and broadband access.
Telehealth. Telehealth would provide medical attention, mental health access, as well as aiding emergency medical personnel in assisting people who live more than 15 minutes away from medical treatment (CDC, 2020). The average distance rural residents live from a hospital is 10.5 miles and an average of 17 minutes (up to an average of 34 minutes depending on location), almost double that of suburban and urban areas (Pew Research Center, 2018). This is not including possible prohibitive or unsafe travel conditions due to inclement weather.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses telehealth to provide medical attention through mobile devices or computers (CDC, 2020). This Telehealth access requires an internet connection, and the digital knowledge to navigate online systems, which may present a learning curve for inexperienced users; and could prohibit low income Americans, unable to attain technological devices and internet connections from accessing necessary care. Some rural communities lack a mental health facility in their vicinity, creating an opportunity for telehealth providers to establish first contact between psychologists and rural clients (Fullen et al., 2020; Summers-Gabr, 2020). The additional telehealth services, destined for areas without mental healthcare providers, would be support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and social support services, e.g. food pantries, psychologists, and career services (Benda et al, 2020). In northern rural areas of California, a telehealth system would be beneficial when residents are unable to access a healthcare facility in a timely manner due to inclement weather and natural disasters, i.e. snow storms, wildfires, high winds, and power outages. With the recent radical weather conditions across the globe, rural and underserved communities are at high risk for losing accessibility to the internet and other technological services that are often the sole connection to prompt healthcare and essential daily services.
Remote Economy. Second, many schools and non-essential jobs are moving, have already moved and/or are continuing to remain in remote work settings, including multigenerational family homes, which could pose a problem for those in rural areas without internet access. Along with the established workforce, millions of new graduates are attempting to start their careers in already impacted job markets (Benda et al., 2020). The remote economy consists not only of those who work for larger enterprises with jobs amenable to remote work, but extends to micro-enterprises, freelance workers, and the online gig-economy.
Online Shopping. Lastly, broadband access would aid vulnerable individuals observing physical distancing guidelines with access to online shopping for essential groceries, household products, and even entertainment among other purchases. For many in self-quarantine situations with only one to two individuals in the home, social connections and forms of digital entertainment can represent a lifeline from feelings of social isolation and depression.
California’s Digital Divide. In a report on California’s digital divide, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) published a fact sheet showing that one in four Californians lack broadband at home. The situation is worse for several key demographic groups. For Black and Latinx communities, about one-third of households do not have high-speed internet. Further, for those in rural communities, with low incomes and no college education, the situation is even worse with greater than 40% of people in these demographic groups without broadband services.
Recent wildfires have taken a huge economic toll on vast swaths of rural California. The top five largest fires in California history, have all occurred in the last two years. These fires have devastated rural economies in Northern California; exacerbated through 2020 and now 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic heaping further economic pain on these communities. Lack of inexpensive and reliable high-speed internet options have made economic recovery efforts in these communities difficult; and it is well known that the combined effects of disasters and economic distress have important mental health consequences likely to endure without the economic, health, and educational opportunities afforded by reliable broadband. Additionally, banking institutions are pushing consumers to digitize all their remaining banking services, just as the initial shift over a decade ago to direct deposit, making simple banking transactions like transferring funds to pay bills impossible when internet access is intermittent, temporarily unavailable or non-existent. For users worldwide with robust internet access, these inequities may be inconceivable, assuming everyone has access to what is now an essential service: reliable internet access. (Side note, while editing this article, internet service went out two times during a high windstorm.)
In these underserved communities, addressing the digital divide is likely to improve already existing disparities in health, occupational, and educational opportunities. Attention to these specific areas are also likely to create a virtuous cycle. That is, improvements in educational opportunities, give rise to more economic prosperity, and better health outcomes, which creates an overall positive feedback loop, driving more gains in each of these areas over time.
Conclusion. At the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic, deeper revelations of systemic racism, political division, global self-quarantines, increasingly inclement weather conditions, and the essential and remote workforces, home internet service and digital devices are no longer solely for recreational or occasional business use, these services and devices are now absolutely essential.
Andrilla, C. H. A., Patterson, D. G., Garberson, L. A., Coulthard, C., & Larson, E. H. (2018). Geographic variation in the supply of selected behavioral health providers. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,54(6S3), 188-207.
Benda, N., Veinot, T., Sieck, C., & Ancker, J. (2020). Broadband Internet access is a social determinant of health. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy,110(8), 1123-1125.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Telehealth in rural communities: How CDC develops programs that deliver care in new ways. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/telehealth-in-rural-communities.htm
Crock Bauerly, B., McCord, R., Hulkower, R., & Pepin, D. (2019). Broadband access as a public health issue: The role of law in expanding broadband access and connecting underserved communities for better health outcomes. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 47(2), 39-42. doi: 10.1177/1073110519857314.
Federal Communications Commission. (2018). 2018 broadband deployment report. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/2018-broadband-deployment-report
Fullen, M. C., Brossoie, N., Dolbin-MacNab, M. L., Lawson, G., & Wiley, J. D. (2020). The impact of the medicare mental health coverage gap on rural mental health care access. Journal of Rural Mental Health, 44(4), 243-251. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/rmh0000161.
Gao, N. & Hayes, J. (2021). California’s digital divide. Public Policy Institute of California. https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-digital-divide/
Goldmann, E., & Galea, S. (2014). Mental health consequences of disasters. Annual Review of Public Health, 35, 169-183. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182435
Gurung, R. A. R., & Stone, A. M. (2020). You can’t always get what you want and it hurts: Learning during the pandemic. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/stl0000236
Lam, O., Broderick, B., & Toor, S. (2018). How far Americans live from the closest hospital differs by community type. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/12/12/how-far-americans-live-from-the-closest-hospital-differs-by-community-type/#:~:text=Rural%20Americans%20live%20an%20average,to%20a%20new%20Center%20analysis.
Pew Research Center. (2019) Internet/broadband fact sheet. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/
Summers-Gabr, N. (2020). Rural-urban mental health disparities in the United States during Covid-19 psychological trauma. Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(1), 222-224. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000871.