MISSOULA – FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr visited Missoula Tuesday as part of his week-long trip through Montana and Wyoming. He is hearing from rural areas about internet and cell service connectivity issues.
Carr was joined by Sen. Steve Daines at the Montana Children’s Specialist, where they discussed the benefits and roadblocks of telehealth.
Telehealth is the ability to visit a doctor remotely. Doctors and patients video chat, and can have a full appointment from miles away.
Daines said, “This can save lives literally, by closing that gap.”
There are only six major hospitals in Montana. Kalispell Regional Medical Center and the Billings Clinic have already implemented programs.
“The feedback has been very very positive, because the patients realize they’re getting care faster, at a lower cost, and much more convenient,” Daines added.
So far telehealth has a 99 percent satisfactory rating, and Daines said he sees no downsides. One obstacle here in Montana is poor reception and internet connectivity.
Carr said getting broadband across rough Montana terrain would be expensive.
It costs at least $30,000 to run a mile of fiber and major hardware and software upgrades.
Carr said it would be worth it.
“You have telehealth applications that are resulting in dramatic cost savings for the health care system on the Medicare, Medicaid side and the federal expenditure. So when you step back and look at the dollar savings that we’re getting, once we get broadband out into communities, I think that makes economic sense for us to continue to invest as a country in deploying broadband.”
Daines’ next step is getting grants from the FCC to fund more broadband in the state.
Story by Katie Miller, MTN News