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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

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December 28, 2007 12:37 PM

Questions Raised About Efficacy of FCC's Telehealth Initiative

Back in November I wrote about the FCC's big announcement regarding its plans to provide hospitals and healthcare providers with $400 million over the next three years in order to support the deployment of broadband.

In that post I raised questions about how we might best apply these funds, wondering if perhaps this initiative was focused too heavily on the deployment of broadband and not enough on the application or use of it.

Well, today I read a terrific post by Ann Treacy at the Blandin on Broadband blog that confirms some of those fears.

Her post stems from a conversation she had with a representation of the Greater Minnesota Telehealth Broadband Initiative, which is an effort to interlink healthcare institutions across Minnesota and in so doing the country and world.

The primary topic of discussion was this initiative's attempts to secure funding from the aforementioned $400 million FCC program to get broadband to hospitals.

Here's the part of her post that really caught my eye: "The focus of funding is the technology - not application of technology. So the money buys broadband but not training or development of applications to use the broadband. It’s that build it and they will come mentality, which hasn’t been particularly effective with Internet projects in the past."

The Greater Minnesota Telehealth Broadband Initiative has been fortunate in getting funds, but it turns out these funds can only be used for one thing: reimbursing telecom companies for deploying broadband networks. No money has been given for administrative concerns or for getting people to use the networks.

Even more frustrating is when Treacy notes the FCC's requirement for some level of matching funds, which Treacy observes leaves many smaller healthcare systems out of luck as they don't have the funds to invest in network infrastructure.

It's remarkable to me that at the highest levels of government we're still thinking about broadband as an end unto itself. What good are networks with no programs to use them?!

Here's a simple idea for how we can take some first baby steps towards shifting this paradigm: what if instead of requiring matching funds for the deployment of broadband, these FCC grants instead allowed--nay, encouraged--the use of matching funds to focus on the applications that make the networks worth the investment.

The FCC could still stay focused on funding the rollout of networks, but in this way healthcare systems could allocate their contributions to making sure they're able to maximize the value of the network once it's put in place.

Ultimately the government has to start being more supportive of adoption and use-based grants rather than solely on deployment, but for now perhaps this slight shift in how money is allocated can be a first step down the path towards doing more to encourage the use of networks rather than just the deployment of networks.


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Comments (1)

I think that’s a great idea. Right now we’re putting the supply out before there is demand, which makes it very hard for the health care providers (especially those smaller hospitals) to allocate funds. If some time /or money was spent on training and applications – in other words building demand – then the smaller guys could build a case for funding. It creates a richer network for everyone. Putting the FCC in position to encourage that investment is a great way get it done.

Posted by Ann Treacy on December 28, 2007 2:10 PM

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