Of all the factors that impact people’s health, high-speed Internet access isn’t one we typically hear about in public health circles. But a recent federal initiative could change that.

During the APHA 2016 Annual Meeting and Expo in Denver, APHA TV interviewed Karen Onyeije, associate general counsel at the Federal Communications Commission and chief of staff of the agency’s Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, which launched in 2014 to explore the connections between broadband, advanced technology and health. During the interview, Onyeije said the effort grew out of a “core realization” that connectivity was already transforming both health and health care, with growing opportunities to help meet the nation’s health goals through leveraging our ability to rapidly connect online.

“Everything broadband touches it transforms and that’s certainly true in health,” Onyeije said.

In fact, Onyeiji described broadband connectivity as a social determinant health, right alongside education and income. According to the FCC, broadband “commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access.” But unfortunately, not all Americans have access to broadband: According to a 2016 FCC report, 34 million American lack access to adequate broadband, with that barrier much more pronounced in America’s rural communities than in its urban ones.

That lack of broadband access means many communities are missing out on innovative ways to improve health. For example, Onyeiji told APHA TV, in the rural Mississippi Delta, the Diabetes Telehealth Network enables patients with uncontrolled diabetes to use a tablet to regularly check in with health providers and participate in health coaching sessions. The results: a drop in hospitalizations and a reduction in the cost of care. And those outcomes, Onyeiji noted, are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Connectivity,” she said, “is a public health tool.”

Watch the full interview at APHA TV. And learn more about how broadband and health overlap in your community with the FCC’s Mapping Broadband Health in America tool.