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High-Speed Broadband Access Becomes Lifeblood for Modern Healthcare

More than ever before, innovations in healthcare technology are saving lives. A series of 2015 stories from around the nation highlight the importance of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in using those technologies to serve patients in both urban and rural settings.

Broadband Speed and Medical Crises

The first story comes from Craig Settles, an expert on broadband access issues. In his line of work, Settles is constantly thinking about, talking about, and writing about the many virtues of broadband technology. But Settles explains that after recently suffering a stroke that required rapid medical attention, he gained a new perspective on the issue.

When someone suffers a stroke, they have three hours to get serious treatment or they often will not recover from its debilitating effects. I was lucky, but...while I worked through my recovery and rehab, a thought hit me: The process of my recovery would have been limited -- if not actually impossible -- had I been living in a small, rural or even urban low-income community without broadband.

Better Broadband, Better Medical Care in Rural West Virginia

The Charleston Gazette-Mail profiles the importance of broadband access at the St. George Medical Clinic in rural West Virginia. The clinic is wedged inside of a deep, wooded river valley, where geographic and topographic challenges interrupt access to reliable, high-speed broadband. In other words, the exact type of rural community Settles had in mind when he wrote about his frightening medical emergency.

But St. George Medical Clinic is different. With assistance from FCC funding, St. George recently laid a 12 miles of fiber optic line that delivers the hospital broadband access, essential to an increasing number of modern medical services. As the article explains:

Prior to installing the fiber optic line, Paul Wamsley, the clinic’s director, said his staff had to work with a DSL connection that only provided speeds of one to three megabits per second (Mbps). But with the new setup, the clinic’s staff and its customers are able to access a patient portal, where they can obtain their medical records, make payments, schedule appointments, request medication and ask for a referral — all online.

As the article also notes, the fiber broadband access at St. George Medical Clinic is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to broadband availability at rural medical facilities in West Virginia. Medical professionals say their patients miss out on access to new healthcare innovations that are not possible in facilities with persistently poor broadband access.

The 10 Gig Doctor

Feature stories appearing in both the Chattanooga Times Free Press and The Chattanoogan tell the story of Dr. Jim Busch, who in October became the first person in the world to get a 10 gigabit broadband per second connection at his home. With 10 gig connectivity, the radiologist and can quickly send and receive massive diagnostic files, enabling him to perform important medical work from home. Dr. Busch pays $299 per month through Chattanooga’s renowned EPB network. 

Dr. Busch explains the value of the service to his work:

‘"In my field, fiber optic speeds save lives. Instead of waiting as much as a week or more to get results because radiologists would have to physically go to each location, our patients can get their results in hours or even minutes.  When something is seriously wrong catching it as early as possible can be the difference between life and death."

Broadband and the Future of Medicine

Thanks to recent research and development, medical professionals are continuously improving their treatment of patients through the use of a wide variety of cutting edge devices and by employing Internet-based platforms to facilitate more efficient lines of communication. But these devices are only possible because of the high-speed broadband networks that are at the heart of modern digital data transmission demands. 

Small and mid-sized communities with municipal networks often find hospitals and clinics are the first entities requesting better connectivity. In fact, more than a few networks were built when strong support from the local medical community tipped opinion in favor of a project. 

The medical future is now for communities with access to high-speed broadband. Patients served by clinics with insufficient access to the technology should not have to wait simply because of where they live. Large corporate providers may find no financial justification for developing high-speed networks in sparsely populated rural areas but quality healthcare is a right that cannot be defined by geography. Local communities of every size and location deserve the authority to develop infrastructure to ensure that right.

Westminster, Maryland's Fiber Pilot Project Grows

Westminster began its FTTP pilot project last summer and interest is high. Brett Lake from the Carroll County Times recently reported the project is growing. According to the story, the Mayor and Common Council voted in late November to spend city capital projects reserve funds to expand the pilot. 

During the engineering phase of the project, officials identified several opportunities to expand the footprint at nominal construction expense. The additional reach will include an industrial park and a residential neighborhood adjacent to Carroll Lutheran Village, one of the original sites. 

The Village is a continuing care facility of single- and multi-family dwellings. Project leaders hope to learn to serve both with the pilot project. Residents also receive healthcare services so the fiber network will facilitate onsite telehealth.

The city will also install a ring for redundancy within the Air Business Center to connect potential business customers. The business center is adjacent to the industrial park that will now be included in the pilot project.

Each location is near the Carroll County Public Network (CCPN). Westminster will take advantage of the proximity and will tap into the CCPN fiber to reduce costs. The entire pilot project is estimated at approximately $650,000.

Gary Davis, CIO of the Carroll County Public Schools and Chairman of the CCPN, spoke with Chris in Episode #43 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. The network serves government, schools, and libraries across the county.

Telecom for Medicine: Public Networks Beat Monopoly and Duopoly

This is a good news/bad news story. The good news is, cable companies are starting to challenge telco dominance in health care communications. According to Bloomberg, they are “ramping up sales staffs to sell broadband access and related services to regional hospitals and doctors’ offices, trying to squeeze more money out of a network they used to use mainly for carrying TV signals.”

The bad news, of course, is that as we transition to digitized medical records, our medical system will be increasingly dependent on the cable/phone duopoly. All companies cited in the article anticipate substantial revenue growth from the health care sector in coming years. Unfortunately, increased revenues to the telecommunications providers means any efficiencies are unlikely to translate into lower health care costs.

Compare this to OneCommunity’s HealthNet, which is driving down costs for health facilities across Northern Ohio by providing affordable access to their gigabit network.

OneCommunity is a non-profit entity that owns and operates its own fiber infrastructure and also promotes interconnection among public and private networks in the region. Its own network is carrier neutral, meaning any service provider can lease access. It connects more than 1,500 entities in 22 counties, including some 65 hospitals. As we've written here, OneCommunity has created enormous cost savings by allowing health care entities to communicate directly with one another, avoiding Internet transport fees.

Photo by therichbrooks on Flickr - used under Creative Commons license.

Publicly Owned Network in Wisconsin Creates Taxpayer Savings

Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls worked together to build a high-capacity broadband network connecting community anchor institutions, including schools, clinics, traffic lights, and more. Called the CINC for Chippewa Valley Inter-Networking Consortium, they now have higher capacity connections, more control over their future telecom needs and budgets, and can run applications that make their operations more efficient (lessening the pressure on the tax base).

The Building Community Capacity through Broadband, a stimulus funded project, has put together a video describing what they did and how they did it. Learn more about these BCCB projects here.

As you watch the video, remember that AT&T and its industry allies want to make projects like this illegal. They want to force the schools, libraries, etc. to pay much more for slower, less reliable networks. While the WiscNet attack in June failed, telcos are still trying to create a monopoly for themselves providing these services.

The lawsuit against the project has a hearing on November 11th where the Judge may decide to dismiss the case. If the case proceeds, the bench trial will be in early January. We frequently see lawsuits like these from big carriers that do not expect to win the case but rather are just harassing any potential competition to raise the cost of challenging the incumbent. So even though BCCB will almost certainly win the case, the telco goal is mostly to threaten any community that follows the good example of these communities.

See video

Ubiquitous Internet: A Boy and His Bot

Our mantra is that communities need fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. We imply universal access, but another key word should be ubiquitous. As new applications are integrated into our modern life, particularly those related to health care, dead zones could actually endanger our health!

A recent story in Sports Illustrated, about a young boy with health problems using a wireless-controlled robot to roam the halls at school hints at future possibilities if we have ubiquitous affordable, reliable, and fast connectivity.

The attached video has some scenes that show the robot in school.

This video is no longer available.

Remapping Debate Covers Community Network Successes

Publication Date: 
May 25, 2011

Remapping Debate, an organization dedicated to "the full spectrum of domestic policy issues," has turned its focus on community broadband networks in an article called "Wave of the Future?" The article notes the tremendous success of Bristol, Virginia, in creating jobs. Most are well aware of the 700 jobs created by CGI and Northrup Grumman due to the network, but there are other success stories too:

Fiber has helped Bristol and the surrounding counties hold onto existing businesses as well as attract new ones. Alpha Natural Resources, a coal giant, pointed to the BVU service as a key factor in its 2009 decision to keep the company’s corporate headquarters in Bristol after a merger with Foundation Coal, a rival based in the more cosmopolitan Baltimore-Washington corridor. BVU’s fast service (up to 30 megabits for downloads and 10 megabits for uploads) will allow Alpha management to maintain close electronic watch over a combined network of mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

The article goes on to discuss Chattanooga. Once again, we knew that its muni fiber network had already led to many more jobs from Amazon and Homeserve, but we learn more about exactly how the network has improved health care:

Chattanooga’s fiber network has been a foundation for high-tech business startups. One new company, Specialty Networks, allows doctors spread across many area hospitals and offices to get quick image analysis from radiologists specializing in the cancers of various regions of the body. In the past, according to Dr. Jim Busch, the radiologist behind the venture, eye, nose, and throat doctors would get initial readings from radiologists who did not necessary understand the particular subtleties of cancers affecting those areas. Now a single head-and-neck expert reads the images for just about all of greater Chattanooga’s ENT doctors. “The relatively inexpensive nature of all this bandwidth has been great for patient care,” Dr. Busch told Remapping Debate.

The rest of the article discusses other benefits of community networks and policy options for moving forward. Recommended reading.

Chelan Video: What has Publicly Owned Fiber Done for Them?

A video from Chelan shows the benefits of a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in a rural public utility district in Washington State. The network has literally saved lived with tele-medicine applications. Citizens also cite educational advantages and increased business opportunities thanks to this smart investment.

This video is no longer available.