An FCC, National Cancer Institute memo of understanding announced yesterday will focus on how improving rural broadband can help rural citizens in the battle against cancer.

“The quality, length and even value of life should not be determined by where you happen to be born or live,” said Michele Ellison, Chair of the FCC’s Connect2Health FCC Task Force. “And yet that’s exactly what’s happening. Nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the rural parts of our country. Too many rural Americans suffer with late cancer diagnoses, unrelenting symptoms, and inadequate access to care.”

FCC, National Cancer Institute Collaboration
An inaugural project under the agreement is creation of a public-private collaboration aimed at taking on the broadband health connectivity gap in Appalachia. The project is L.A.U.N. C.H. (Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia. The initial focus will be in rural Kentucky. Participating organizations in the public/private initiative are the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (a NCI-designated cancer center), the University of California, San Diego’s Design Lab, and Amgen.

One of the rationales for the program is a finding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that rural citizens are more likely to die of cancer than people in urban areas who have seen a 20% decrease in cancer deaths during the past 20 years. At the same time, rural residents have spottier broadband access and adoption. That makes broadband-based care solutions less available.

The challenge is particularly severe in Appalachia. Between 1969 and 2011, cancer deaths have soared in this region while declining in every other part of the country, according to the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

“Through this strategic collaboration, we will work to bring the critical connectivity piece to the cancer puzzle,” explained Ms. Ellison. “Increasingly, broadband-enabled technologies are transforming the way cancer patients and survivors better manage, monitor, and treat their symptoms—helping them to live longer, better quality lives. But for rural Americans with limited access to broadband, many of these connected care solutions are unavailable. Better connectivity holds the promise of bringing first class care and treatment to anyone, anywhere.”