Regence BlueShield of Idaho joins business community discussion on improving broadband access and affordability

By Regence
October 07, 2022
BoiseDev broadband event panel

While those living in urban areas may be able to take broadband-enabled access to online learning, employment or health care resources for granted, it’s a different story for those who call rural communities home.

In Idaho’s Ada County, the state’s most populous, broadband service is available in over 97% of the county. Conversely, in rural Clark County where fewer than 1,000 people live, there is no broadband access at all. In a state where 80% of counties are designated rural, the digital divide is as real as it gets.

A forum was held in Idaho’s capital city in early October to raise awareness of the broadband service desert that exists across much of Idaho. The event also aimed to build business community understanding of the importance of working together to help level the connectivity playing field.

BoiseDev broadband event camera

Convened by online news source BoiseDev, IT experts and end users from education, libraries and health care were brought together to share their experiences and insights on what they’ve learned – especially through the pandemic. To set the stage, Regence BlueShield of Idaho President Mark Ruszczyk noted that access to affordable, reliable broadband has become a fundamental determinant of individual, family and community health – alongside nutritious food, safe and secure housing and a quality education.

Forum attendees then heard from the city of Boise’s chief information officer who talked about how cities and counties across the Treasure Valley are uniting to focus their energies and resources to address broadband access and affordability. The Idaho Commission for Libraries spoke of how rural libraries have built out their external-facing hotspots to serve residents 24/7, and how several of them have created private-use areas so residents can access telehealth. The Idaho School Boards Association discussed the challenges member districts had when the pandemic required increased reliance on distance learning. And Regence Executive Medical Director, Dr. Dan Meltzer, spoke of the dramatic increase in Regence members’ use of telehealth – from roughly 2% of all visits in 2019 to more than 60% at the peak of the pandemic.

In the end, those who attended the lunchtime forum were offered a simple recipe for bridging Idaho’s digital divide – unite and conquer.

BoiseDev’s full video and audio recordings of the forum are available online.