Broadband may be the greatest health care innovation for rural America

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By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

When we talk about the impact of broadband Internet access, we often focus on its importance to economic development, business growth and such. While it is absolutely an economic driver, broadband may also be just what the doctor ordered for rural America.

You will sometimes hear it referred to as telemedicine; other times, telehealth. Whatever you call it, the use of broadband technology is changing the way health care is delivered. And I believe we are only seeing the beginning.

For example, electronic medical records are allowing doctors to streamline care, especially for patients in rural areas. A patient who normally visits a rural clinic can be confident that their health information is accurate and up-to-date when they visit a regional hospital.

I wrote in the previous issue of this magazine about aging in place, noting that technologies such as videoconferencing, remote health monitoring and X-ray transmission are helping rural seniors stay at home longer. But the aging population is just one segment that can benefit from broadband-enabled applications.

Recently, I attended a technology showcase that focused on the interconnection between technology providers, health care providers and innovation in telemedicine. It was a fascinating conference that left my mind spinning with the possibilities for rural health care delivery.

We heard from a rural telecommunications provider who said small telcos are often too small to get the main contracts from the base hospitals, but that they have an important role in providing the local infrastructure and having the construction team on the ground. This has helped build the case for having a role in the large clinic and university hospital contracts in the future.

Hugh Cathey of the innovative company HealthSpot provided a real glimpse into what broadband can mean to all segments of society. His company has kiosks in several Rite Aid drug stores in Ohio where patients can walk in and be face-to-face with a healthcare professional via a video screen. These stations come outfitted with everything you need to receive a wide variety of remote treatments. The HealthSpot network has seen thousands of patients since May, for ailments such as allergies, cold and flu, bronchitis, cough, rashes, sore throat and fever.

With applications such as these, it’s easy to get excited about what the future holds for telemedicine. And with the great work being done by your telco and others like it who are building world-class broadband networks, we can know that rural America will not be left behind in this evolution.

The search for better broadband should start with existing local providers

NEW NTCA logo 4CRural connections

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association

There is no question that broadband Internet service is the key to economic and community development, especially in rural America. However, there are differing opinions in Washington about the best way to continue building our nation’s connected infrastructure.

While I applaud President Obama’s recent attention on increasing every American’s access to robust and affordable broadband, it’s not clear that his focus on creating more government-run networks in marketplaces where private operators already exist is the best path toward bringing more jobs and opportunity to rural America.

If our leaders are looking for an excellent model for what can be accomplished, we believe they should turn to the experts who have decades of experience deploying and maintaining modern telecommunications infrastructure: community-based, independent telcos like yours.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Nationwide, there are over 1,000 technology providers like yours that serve over 4 million households in the most sparsely populated pockets of our country, deploying high-speed, high-quality broadband services. For decades, these providers have gone above and beyond to build the infrastructure that allows our country’s most rural markets to access the same technologies found in our largest cities — and they’ve done it all under the extremely difficult financial and physical conditions that come with deploying technologies in rural and remote communities.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of companies such as your local provider, rural America now has access to affordable broadband in some of the most remote locations. But the sustainability of those networks is at risk, and other areas need broadband as well. Policymakers in search of answers to these communications challenges in rural America should turn first to those who have shown they can get the job done time and again, rather than casting about for the next new thing, creating regulatory uncertainty and putting at risk significant investments already made in existing networks through the prospect of redundant or wasteful overbuilding.

There’s already a great broadband success story out there in rural America, and it is being written by community-based telecom providers like yours. As our national broadband story progresses, we should strive to build upon proven initiatives and leverage existing efforts that are working, rather than pursue new uncharted pathways. As this debate plays out, you can be assured that you have a voice in Washington, as your provider joins with hundreds of others through NTCA as the unified voice of America’s rural broadband companies.

Popularity of online video is growing

Online video is bringing consumers greater entertainment choices, making broadband even more important. A recent study by networking company Ciena predicts that average household bandwidth requirements will increase by 31 percent annually over the next five years, as viewers connect their smart TVs and devices (Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, etc.) to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Hulu and more.

Do you enjoy online video? Share your story at www.HowDoYouBroadband.com

NTCA unveils ad campaign focusing on work of rural broadband providers

As your community-based telecommunications provider, we are committed to delivering the services our rural region needs to stay connected. In fact, no one is in a better position to serve you — and that is the message our national association is sending to Washington through a new advertising campaign.

The first print ad in the NTCA campaign reminds policymakers that solutions to rural challenges — such as making technology available to students in our local classrooms — have long come from rural telecommunications providers.

The first print ad in the NTCA campaign reminds policymakers that solutions to rural challenges — such as making technology available to students in our local classrooms — have long come from rural telecommunications providers.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association launched the print and digital ad series in July, sending a strong message to elected officials, regulators and their support staffs in the nation’s capital. That message is twofold: 1) that for more than 60 years, rural telecommunications companies have successfully met the challenges of delivering quality, affordable services to the country’s most rural and remote communities, and 2) that with the right support, these rural providers can continue to deliver real solutions as society becomes increasingly reliant on broadband connectivity.

The campaign is part of NTCA’s work to ensure the story of rural telecommunications is heard at a time when policymakers in Washington look to update rules affecting the industry. These ads are appearing in print and digital publications that have a high level of readership among these policymakers.

NTCA represents nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America. The ad campaign is another example of how we work with other companies like us through our national organization to benefit our members and their communities.

Shirley Bloomfield is chief executive officer of NTCA. “As policymakers in Washington consider who to turn to as we continue to tackle the rural broadband challenge, we want to make sure they recognize that community-based telecommunications providers have been the solution for rural America all along,” Bloomfield says. “For decades, rural telcos have offered the most effective answer for rural communications problems by leveraging their own entrepreneurial spirit, their technical know-how, their commitment to community and federal partnerships that were effective in promoting investment. If they can continue to have access to the tools to do so, these community-based providers will remain the most effective answer to solve such problems in a broadband world.”

Small business cyber security

Protect yourself today: Practical steps small businesses can take to protect against cyber security threats

With the ever-growing number of cyber security threats, all businesses should take immediate steps to ensure that their operations, systems and networks are secure. In the July/August issue, we looked at some of the threats facing small businesses. Now, let’s discuss steps that every small business should consider immediately.

Below are four inexpensive steps that will provide some immediate protection from cyber security threats for any business. These are four steps of many, but they provide a good starting point.

Michael Ramage is the Associate Director of the Center for Telecommunications Systems Management at Murray State University.

Michael Ramage is the Associate Director of the Center for Telecommunications Systems Management at Murray State University.

  • Anti-Virus Software — An essential step that every business should consider is software to help keep its systems clean of viruses and malware. Having a clean computer is vital to a secure network. Several anti-virus software options are available, some even for free.  Choose an option that provides real-time monitoring.
  • Password Usage — A basic requirement that is often overlooked by organizations is the use of passwords. First of all, use them. Every computer, no matter how insignificant, should require a password to log on. Complex passwords should be used if possible. The SANS Institute (www.sans.org) provides tips on security and password usage, such as not mixing personal and business passwords.
  • Employee Training  — Employees are the first line of defense in cyber security protection. Many security attacks could be prevented with proper security awareness training. This should include the do’s and don’ts of Internet and cyber security. Examples would include proper password usage, what information can be shared over the phone and how to protect customer information.
  • Regular Backups — Data loss happens all the time. Sometimes it is due to human error, sometimes to natural disasters. Other losses are due to malicious activity. Every business should create a regular backup schedule for its critical data and provide offsite storage. Ideally, a business should follow best practices. For example, if you back up to a system within the same building and your building burns down, then you lose your original data and your backup data.

These are just a few steps that small businesses should take immediately. In the November/December issue, we will discuss some longer-term measures small business should consider to protect their systems and information.

FCC delays implementation of increase in local phone rates

Thanks in part to the unified voice of America’s rural telecommunications companies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to change its approach to an increase in local phone service rates.

Earlier this year the FCC announced a new “rate floor” for rural telecommunications services that, if enacted in full, would have forced some rural companies to raise their local phone service rates by as much as 40 percent this summer.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association filed a notice with the FCC expressing concern on behalf of the nation’s rural telecommunications companies and their consumers.

Toward the end of April, the FCC announced a decision to delay implementation of the rate floor increase until January 2015, and to phase in the increase over a longer period.

This increase in the rate floor is intended to bring rates across the country into better balance. To comply with the new minimum, some telecommunications providers would be forced to raise their rates for local phone service by as much as $6 per month.

We will continue to keep you updated through the pages of our magazine, and to work through NTCA to ensure your voice is heard in Washington, D.C., on important issues that impact telecommunications services across rural America.

Ringside seats to TV’s future

By Trevor Bonnstetter
Chief Executive Officer

Today’s television industry is very much like a wrestling match. In one corner stands the champion, the current structure where pricing and packaging are driven by the content providers. In the other corner is the fast-rising newcomer: OTT.

Trevor Bonnstetter

Trevor Bonnstetter

The term OTT means “over the top,” and is used to describe television programming that is available outside of a TV subscription. This includes services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

These services charge a subscription fee for users to watch movies, TV shows and even original programming — and the approach is changing peoples’ viewing habits. For example, the Netflix political drama “House of Cards” released its second season in February, and almost 700,000 Netflix subscribers watched all 13 episodes in the first weekend. Viewers are becoming more interested in watching what they want, when they want to watch it (even if that means spending their weekend consuming 13 hours of a political drama).

Also in February, we saw the launch of a service that is different from anything we’ve seen so far. The WWE Network offers wrestling fans original programming, a back catalog of shows spanning decades and access to its pay-per-view events — all for $9.99 per month. And it’s only available over the top. Will this be a model that other niche providers pursue? Would consumers pay a separate fee for that kind of access to football or basketball? Home improvement or gardening shows? It remains to be seen.

We all use our TVs to connect with traditional programming, like the packages offered by Ardmore Telephone. But how do people access the OTT programming? The list of devices is long and continues to grow. There’s the popular Roku and Apple TV, devices that connect to your television and your home’s Internet connection. In April, Amazon introduced its own video streaming device. Some devices with different primary functions, like the PlayStation, Xbox and Blu-ray players, also provide access to OTT services. And many newer television sets have built-in OTT functionality.

Rick Schadelbauer is an economist with NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. In a recent industry report, Rick shared with us that the number of households with connected TVs is on the rise. “According to a study recently released by The Diffusion Group (TDG), more than six in 10 U.S. households have at least one television connected to the Internet in order to access content from online services,” he wrote. And that number is up 19 percent from 2013.

These numbers, along with the OTT examples I mentioned above, paint a clear picture: television entertainment is rapidly evolving. Adding more pressure to change is the fact that content providers continue to demand more money from companies like ours, while telling us what channels we must carry and where we must place them in the lineup.

As we watch this match play out, there is good news for members of Ardmore Telephone. We continue to invest in creating a robust broadband network, and we will be ready to provide you with a reliable connection to whatever services you decide to access — across whatever device you decide to connect to our network.

Telcos respond as FCC pushes for increase in local service rates

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced in March a new “rate floor” for rural telecommunications services that, if enacted in full, could raise local phone service rates by 40 percent for some rural consumers.

This increase is intended to bring rates across the country into better balance. To comply with the new minimum, some telecommunications providers would be forced to raise their rates for local phone service by as much as $6 per month.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed a notice with the FCC expressing concern on behalf of the nation’s rural telecommunications companies. “The strict implementation of this rule presents real challenges for rural consumers and could put at risk access to both quality voice and broadband services in many rural communities,” wrote NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield in the notice.

Suggestions to the FCC include phasing in the rate increase amounts over time as well as delaying the dates for the increases to be implemented.

As your telecommunications provider, we will continue working through NTCA to present the concerns of rural consumers to the FCC. Please see the July/August issue of this magazine for an update.

Our national telco association joins with 34 rural groups to work for broadband support

Access to affordable broadband Internet affects all aspects of rural life, and regulators should act quickly to put a plan in place that will support the availability of affordable broadband service in rural America.

That was the message a group of 35 national organizations sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March. NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association signed the letter, along with groups representing consumer, community and business interests. NTCA is the national voice of telecommunications companies such as ours.

Because of the way Universal Service Fund (USF) support is currently set up, “consumers in rural America are being forced to select services they may not want, such as traditional landline telephone service, in order to gain access to broadband services at an affordable rate,” says Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA.

The letter specifically urged the FCC to move forward as quickly as possible to implement a Connect America Fund (CAF) mechanism for rural telecommunications companies like ours — a mechanism that will “provide sufficient and predictable support for broadband-capable networks across all of rural America,” Bloomfield adds.

The letter stated that “our groups include representatives of agribusiness, farmers and ranchers, rural health care providers, rural educational initiatives, economic development agencies, utilities, lenders and other sectors that are indispensable to our rural and national economies.”

—From NTCA Reports

In addition to NTCA, other organizations signing the letter include: 

  • Agricultural Retailers Association
  • American Association of Community Colleges
  • American Farm Bureau Federation
  • American Library Association
  • American Telemedicine Association
  • Independent Community Bankers of America
  • National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education
  • National Rural Economic Developers Association
  • National Rural Education Association
  • National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
  • National Rural Health Association
  • National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative
  • Rural School and Community Trust
  • State Agriculture and Rural Leaders

The IP Evolution

Support for ‘middle mile’ networks is vital to keeping rural regions connected to Internet

The technology that powers the Web — known as Internet Protocol, or IP — has become the standard for transmitting information between devices.  As we use this technology to connect everything from security systems to appliances, in addition to watching movies and sharing files over the Internet, it is more important than ever that federal regulations support the “IP Evolution.”

When you use your Internet connection and our local network to access the nation’s Internet backbone, your information travels across “middle mile” networks. Because these networks are a vital connection between your local provider and the rest of the Internet, it is important that our nation’s policies support their development — especially as people in rural America grow to rely more on broadband connections for education, business growth, entertainment, telemedicine and general communications.

“The networks required to connect rural areas to Internet ‘on-ramps’ are costly, and consumer demand is increasing the need for bandwidth,” says Mike Romano, senior vice president of policy for NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. “To keep rural broadband services affordable, such networks need universal service support.”

As your telecommunications provider, we will continue working through NTCA with other companies like ours across the U.S. to encourage changes in federal regulations that will help consumers take advantage of the IP Evolution.