Broadband Access and Deaths of Despair: Rural Communities

First name: 
T. Dorje
Last name: 
Class Year: 
Michael Fotos
Essay Abstract: 
With the digital economy taking over all facets of life, broadband access, access to high-speed internet, has been called a “super-determinant” of health improving economic, social, and educational outcomes. However, broadband access is not distributed evenly and some communities in America are being left behind, in particular rural areas – this is known as the urban-rural digital divide. Coinciding with a widening digital divide in the past couple decades, rural communities have also faced increased death rates from diseases of despair – a set of medical conditions comprised of alcohol-related diseases, drug overdoses, and suicides – in response to a decades long dismantling of the rural economy. This paper connects the benefits of broadband and the problems of diseases of despair through a multivariate cross-sectional regression analysis. The results show that greater broadband access is associated with lower mortality from diseases of despair. Furthermore, both unemployment and education were found to be key contributors to deaths of despair supporting the proposed mechanism by which broadband improves health outcomes. I also analyzed the effect of economic dependency and deaths of despair, and found increased baseline rates of mortality in farming, mining, and recreation-based economies. With these results, broadband policy recommendations include a consideration for non-agricultural counties, greater focus on tertiary education, increased broadband thresholds for aid, and coordination across government agencies.