President Obama announced Friday a $795 million government program to develop broadband access in rural parts of the country. Among the beneficiaries will be 900 healthcare facilities.
The investment will support 66 new Recovery Act broadband projects nationwide that, according to the grantees, will not only directly create approximately 5,000 jobs up front, but will also help spur economic development in some of the nation's hardest-hit communities, helping create jobs for years to come.
On the healthcare front – already $2.5T in the United States and 17 percent of GDP – the FCC's National Broadband Plan estimates $700 billion in savings over 15-25 years from teleHealth initiatives. Telehealth is likely to get a boost from greater access to broadband, the FCC plan notes.
A primary catalyst for telehealth advancement is broadband, specifically the Metro Ethernet high capacity network, observed Eric Bozich, vice president of product management for Denver-based Qwest Business Markets, told Healthcare IT News last month.
“As broadband has become more widely deployed and affordable, it has enabled things to happen,” he said. “It has finally reached that point of critical mass where the experience is high quality enough that people are willing to accept and adopt it. Ease of use is allowing practices, hospitals and clinics to manage and deploy telehealth in a way that is reasonable. All those things are coming together to create an environment that is realistic, affordable and practical.”
Besides benefiting healthcare organizations in all 50 states, Obama said the broadband projects will also affect tens of millions of Americans and more than 685,000 businesses and 2,400 schools across the country.
The $795 million in grants and loans through the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture have been matched by more than $200 million in outside investment, for a total public-private investment of more than $1 billion in bringing broadband service to these communities, most of which currently have little or no access.
With new or increased broadband access, Obama asserted, medical professionals can provide cost-efficient remote diagnoses and care, communities can compete on a level playing field to attract new businesses, schools can create distance learning opportunities and business owners can expand the market for their products beyond their neighborhoods to better compete in the global economy.
The grants and loans are part of an overall $7.2 billion investment the Recovery Act makes in expanding broadband access nationwide – $4.7 billion through the Commerce Department and $2.5 billion funded through the Department of Agriculture.
There are two types of awards:
- Infrastructure – Middle mile awards build and improve connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access and last mile awards connect end users like homes, hospitals and schools to their community's broadband infrastructure (the middle mile).
- Public Computing Centers – These expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues.
A list of the 66 projects with amount of grant, description of work and locations appear on the following pages.