by Elana Varon

Testing the Benefits of High-Speed Internet Access

May 11, 2010
Consumer Electronics

Case Western Reserve University pilots a program to prove that high-speed Internet access leads to a better standard of living.

Your home broadband connection can let your spouse work online while you catch up on Lost. But for residents of low-income neighborhoods, high-speed Internet access means more than convenience: It could be a path to better health, safer streets and economic opportunity.

To prove this, Case Western Reserve University has launched the University Circle Innovation Zone, a project that’s deploying gigabit fiber-optic connections to residents of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. Beginning May 22 with 104 homes, local institutions—including hospitals, schools, electric utilities and public safety agencies—will use the network to deliver cutting-edge services to residents. Over the next 18 months, Case Western researchers will study changes in residents’ health and other indicators of their standard of living.

Nearly three-fourths of the people living near Case Western don’t have Internet access, according to the university, and as many as 60 percent use food stamps. “There’s no compelling reason for America’s inner city to engage in the Internet as we know it as a consumer experience,” says Lev Gonick, Case Western’s CIO and vice president for information technology services, who is leading the initiative.

Connectivity alone won’t close the gap between the haves and have-nots. The services that would be most useful to low-income residents are not yet widely available commercially, he adds. These include the ability to consult with healthcare providers, access educational resources or alert the police about public safety concerns through video surveillance.

Using Data from Life

A gigabit router from Genexis will be installed in each home in the Innovation Zone, and it will be connected to Northeast Ohio’s existing OneCommunity fiber optic network. One project will use videoconferencing technology provided by LifeSize to enable residents with chronic conditions such as diabetes to consult with healthcare providers over high-definition video. Patients will also be given devices that automatically monitor their health and transmit data to medical professionals.

Cleveland Clinic is a partner with Case Western in this initiative. Rosalind Strickland, senior director of its Office of Civic Education Initiatives, says broadband access could enable residents to take better care of themselves when they can’t visit their doctors. “It helps us look at driving health outcomes in a more positive way,” she says.

Other projects would provide science and math materials to students, deliver video feeds to police and collect data to help residents manage energy usage. Case Western’s technology and service provider partners are financing the initiative.

Home broadband transmission speeds in the United States top out between 25 and 100 megabits per second, according to the FCC; most are much slower. In February, Google announced an experiment to provide at least 50,000 homes with gigabit broadband service. Gonick says Case Western’s project is modeled on gigabit networks being deployed in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Seoul.