By Jonathan Chen, The Nevada Independent, October 13th, 2023
From high-flying casinos to dead bushes, I first noticed Nevada’s stark rural-urban divide from the back seat of my dad’s car. My family was visiting relatives in the United States when the pandemic first struck, and we chose to stay in Las Vegas for the rest of 2020. As my dad drove us out of the back entrance of my new school, I saw what I expected to my left: suburban buildings with urban towers in the background, but to my right, I was shocked to find — nothing. Nothing but desert and tumbleweeds.
As a lifelong “city boy,” this was the first time I witnessed rural-urban differences so clearly. I later found out that the rural-urban divide in Nevada goes deeper than the view — it represents life-changing disparities in resources and outcomes for its residents, particularly in terms of health care.
Rural hospitals in Nevada have a dearth of health professionals, with three counties having no licensed physicians at all. “If … [a rural community] lose[s]… [a physician], that becomes a problem if not a crisis,” explained John Packham, an associate dean at the UNR School of Medicine. Though telemedicine can help remedy this divide at a low cost by utilizing existing cyber infrastructures to decrease the financial burden of health care, it can only do so if rural residents have access to broadband.
In Nevada, five of the 14 rural counties have less than 5 percent broadbandcoverage. To ensure that all rural residents can enjoy the benefits of telemedicine, the federal government should encourage internet providers to engage in rural markets through subsidies. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program awards $42.5 billion to expand internet access in America.
However, broadband companies such as T-Mobile and Verizon have reportedly been overstating their internet coverage numbers to exploit this program. BEAD (and similar programs in the future) should implement safeguards to ensure that broadband provision reports are accurate.
Internet access will also improve aspects of rural life such as social connectivity, employment opportunities, education and economic activity. It is undeniable that we benefit from having everyone online.
However, without digital literacy, the efforts to build network infrastructures will all go to waste. Therefore, rural governments must also adopt and support programs that develop digital skills in rural areas, such as the Digital Champion Network in Europe, which uses rewards to incentivize volunteer participation and provides them with digital courses and guides to support members of their community in person or virtually.
With only 10 percent of Nevadans living in rural areas, the decision to leave them behind can be tempting. While we haven’t done so yet, our passive approach to uplifting rural areas has seen the divide rapidly widen in every aspect.
Too often, the world is seen as a place where your gain is my loss. That is so far from the truth. Investing in rural areas will promote economic growth and improve food security for urban areas as well. So even ignoring the fundamental need for equality, we must uplift our rural counterparts: for them — and for us.
Jonathan Chen is a former student at the Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas. He is interested in urban planning and the issue of rural-urban divide in Nevada.