Broadband grant to create IT, telehealth jobs

By Bernie Monegain
11:25 AM

When President Obama announced on July 2 a $795 million government program to develop broadband access in rural parts of the country, it meant an additional 5,000 jobs up front, he said.

Some of those jobs – though the administration did not pinpoint how many – will be in the healthcare IT and telehealth sectors. Obama noted that among the beneficiaries of the government award would 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, says Eric Bozich, vice president of product management for Denver-based Qwest Business Markets.

"As broadband has become more widely deployed and affordable, it has enabled things to happen," Bozich 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."

One healthcare facility – Iowa Health System – will benefit directly from the broadband program. It was awarded a $17.7 million grant through the program.

The grant, with an additional $9.9 million match of its own, will upgrade and enhance the health system's existing fiber network that provides connections to more than 200 healthcare facilities. It also will facilitate more access to broadband service for residents and businesses statewide.

Iowa Health System's project stands to benefit approximately 1.7 million people. Additionally, 135,000 businesses and 1,800 other community institutions stand to benefit from the project.

Iowa Health System estimates that the project will directly create approximately 100 jobs up front and help drive economic development in the community that creates jobs for years to come.