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USDA Grant Funds Rural Telemedicine and E-Learning

By Eric Frederick

 The USDA is making $19 million available to rural areas seeking to expand distance learning opportunities and telemedicine. The Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program gives schools, government groups, non-profits, businesses, and others the opportunity to obtain equipment and instruction that can benefit local students, teachers, doctors, and, most importantly, the community. 

Nearly one fifth of America’s population resides in rural areas, as classified by the U.S. Census Bureau. These nearly 59.5 million people are spread over more than 90% of the nation’s land area, making it exceedingly difficult to concentrate resources and technology effectively. This problem is compounded on a state-by-state basis, where some states, like Maine and Mississippi, host over half of their population in rural areas. The DLT grant gives rural communities a chance to expand their resources themselves and reach out to new technology. The deadline for application is July 6; and applicants meeting eligibility standards may receive funding (as much as $500,000 per applicant) for hardware and software needed to take part in online courses, connect with larger hospitals or universities, and support ongoing benefits from telemedicine and online learning.    

Telemedicine includes communications, information exchange, diagnosis, and other services conducted through healthcare providers via the Internet. This may include recuperating at home while keeping in touch with a physician, instead of in a hospital. Telemedicine can also save travel time and expenses, eliminating the need to travel to a hospital for a diagnosis when information can be shared from a local doctor’s office instead. Since information can travel faster and farther, more patients can be treated for more complex cases that would have otherwise required specialized examination at a hospital. 

Distance learning works similarly, connecting to a university or other educational entity through the use of computers. Outfitted with the right equipment and software, students can watch lectures, conduct online homework, work with other students in chat rooms or via video calls, see demonstrations, and much more. Supported by an existing broadband connection and equipment funded through the grant, students in rural areas can take part in advanced courses or begin college courses that would otherwise require hundreds of miles of travel or relocating from the area. 

While the grant supports “audio, video and interactive video equipment, computer hardware, network components and software” and some other components, it does not directly allow for expansion or development of broadband infrastructure, meaning that broadband connections must already be in place for a community to benefit from the majority of the resources available. Advancement in broadband access, adoption, and use in rural areas is essential for communities to take advantage of these and other opportunities, and Connected Nation continues to aid rural areas in expanding the necessary technology. Learn more about opportunities and developments in broadband and technology through http://www.connectmycommunity.org/.

Interested in pursuing a USDA grant? Connected Nation can help. Send an e-mail to info@connectednation.org and we can help you explore this opportunity.

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