MISSOULA – FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr visited Missoula Tuesday as part of his week-long trip through Montana and Wyoming where he’s hearing from rural areas about internet and cell service connectivity issues.
Carr was joined by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) at the Montana Children’s Specialist, where they discussed the benefits and roadblocks of telehealth where patients can visit a doctor remotely.
Doctors and patients video chat, and can have a full appointment from miles away. “This can save lives literally, by closing that gap,” Sen. Daines said.
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,” Sen. Daines added.
So far telehealth has a 99% satisfactory rating, and Sen. Daines said he sees no downsides. One obstacle here in Montana is poor reception and internet connectivity.
FCC Commissioner 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 but 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,” Carr said.
“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,” he added.
Sen. Daines’ next step is getting grants from the FCC to fund more broadband in the state.