FCC Evaluates Rural Health Broadband Efforts
As for accomplishments to date, the study noted that:
- 2,107 providers were "on target" to receive $217 million in universal service support by January 2012, with the average award of about $100,000 per provider.
- Project sizes range from fewer than 10 to more than 150 provider sites; about one-third of the projects each have more than 50 provider sites receiving support through the pilot.
- The five largest projects are statewide networks in California, Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, and West Virginia. So far, these networks are on target to receive funding to connect more than 800 providers.
- Forty-four of 50 projects that receive pilot funding include urban providers. Approximately 35% of all providers that received funding commitments in the pilot as of January 2012 were classified as urban, or 733 of the 2,107 total.
- Pilot leaders often come from large medical institutions and universities in urban areas, which often serve as hubs for the network receive support for the equipment that enables the entire network to operate.
- Pilot project participants purchase higher bandwidth connections than do participants in the FCC's existing program, which defrays the cost of telecommunications and Internet access services for rural providers. Most Pilot Project participants purchase 10 Mbps or faster connections, which are much faster than the connections that typically are purchased in the permanent RHC Program, the vast majority of which are 3 Mbps or less.
- Most pilot projects purchase broadband services from commercial providers rather than build and own their own networks.
As we've already noted, this is a status report and most of the findings are self-evident. Don't expect much breaking news as you skim through these 98 pages.
However, it's interesting to read the report as a measure of how far we have come over the past six years toward the acceptance and promotion of telemedicine. In 2006, the FCC was raising questions about the value of access to broadband and telemedicine as critical components for improving quality, maximizing limited resources, and reducing costs. In 2012, those questions have been answered. The value is inarguable.
John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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