Electronic Health Record Loan Program applications now available

I thought this might be helpful to any healthcare professionals out there…

The Minnesota Department of Health-Office of Rural Health and Primary Care administers an electronic health record (EHR) loan program to help finance the implementation or support of interoperable EHR systems. Loan funds are primarily intended for EHR software, hardware, training and support expenses.

Loans are six-year, no-interest with the first year’s repayment deferred. Eligible entities: federally qualified health centers; community clinics; nonprofit or local units of government hospitals; individual or small group physician practices that are primarily focused on primary care; nursing facilities and local public health departments.

Note: Priority will be given to the following applicants: critical access hospitals; federally qualified health centers; entities that serve uninsured, underinsured and medically underserved individuals (urban or rural); and individual or small group practices that are primarily focused on primary care. The commissioner has the authority to approve other providers of health or health care services when interoperable electronic health record capability would improve quality of care, patient safety or community health.

Estimated funds available: $1,000,000
Estimated number of approved loans: 4-8
Estimated award range: $50,000 – $250,000

It doesn’t look like it pays for the broadband necessarily – but it would help with other aspects of EHR implementation. Applications are due April 1

Connect Minnesota maps tell a story

Earlier this week the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a story about the Connect Minnesota maps calling out their flaws…

The report acknowledges that “statewide estimates do not necessarily reflect the reality faced by each Minnesota community.” In addition, Commerce Department commissioner Mike Rothman described the report in modest terms: “This data provides a baseline and is a first step in an ongoing process.”

But critics go further and say that the report’s speed claims are way off.

This issue is that the maps indicate that 94 percent of Minnesota households have access to broadband (as defined by 3 Mbps) and folks disagree with that assessment.

Geoff Daily wrote an article earlier this week on the National Broadband Maps ($300 Million And All I Got Was This Lousy Broadband Map). Some of his points are compelling and seem to reflect issues brought up by the Star Tribune. He remarked, “In terms of the data itself, it’s hard not to feel like it’s really incomplete and somewhat inaccurate.”

I don’t really disagree with either accusation on the accuracy. There has been concerns all along with the fact that Connect Minnesota gets its data from the providers – but so far I haven’t heard of a better, realistic way to do it. So for this year, I think we have the best maps we could realistically get and the maps are definitely accurate enough to highlight underserved areas.

Moving forward, I think it’s up to us to help make the maps better by testing the speeds ourselves and reporting in. From what I have seen, Connect Minnesota is very responsive when users have voiced specific issues with the maps.

Perhaps the other issue is the perceived value of the statewide percentage of household availability. Looking at the maps that track household broadband availability by county gives a better picture of the issues in Minnesota. The Twin Cities (which includes a great percentage of households in the state) is covered 95-100 percent according the map (included here). Counties such as Cook, Aitkin, Mahnomen, Redwood, Lincoln, Pipestone and Rock are hovering around 40-60% coverage. That tells the story.

Communities have been able to pick up that story, learn from it and are using it to urge action. Redwood County is one example. In that way, Connect Minnesota has done a great job. Their maps are getting people talking about broadband, understanding the implications of broadband and reacting to improve their standing. That’s valuable.

One caveat is that in Minnesota, these maps should be used to track our progress towards our goal of ubiquity. I think the maps do provide a disservice if there’s a chance that someone is going to say that 94 percent is good enough.

Another turn for Lake County

Thanks to Stimulating Broadband for the heads up on this one…

Mediacom Asks USDA Inspector General for Federal Probe of Lake County, MN Broadband Award

This afternoon StimulatingBroadband.com published a story disclosing the first public filing of a complaint to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture relating to a broadband stimulus awarded project.

The filing was made by Mediacom Communications Corporation (NASDAQ: MCCC) against Lake County, Minnesota, relative to the County’s application for and receipt of a $66.5 million grant / loan package issued in August 2010 by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The plot thickens. The article points to potential Lake County’s issues with National Public Broadband and include a link to the Mediacom complaint.

The road to community broadband networks is not easy. We saw that with Monticello. That’s not to dismiss the charges.

Lake County moves forward with fiber plan

We got a sneak preview of this news at the TISP meeting last week. After running into a hiccup with the ARRA-funded broadband deployment project, the Duluth News Tribune reports…

The Lake County Board of Commissioners wasted no time in hiring a new management team for its fiber-to-home telecommunications network.

On Tuesday, the board hired Jeff Roiland as the project manager. He is from Willmar, Minn., and ran that city’s En-Tel Communications network. He will be assisted by Gene South, the longtime CEO of Lakedale Communications in Annandale, which covered a wide swath of communities in west central Minnesota south of St. Cloud.

It sounds as if Board heard from a few hopefuls approach them once the need was annouced but that these guys were the best fit. Both attended the TISP meeting last week.

Redwood County helps hone broadband maps

I was happy to hear from Brent Legg at Connected Nation about updated broadband maps for Redwood County. At our first countywide broadband meeting, I showed the maps to a large group of providers and community leaders. Having the maps is a great advantage so that any discussion can be based on quality information.

Due to some changes in ownership of telephone exchanges, the maps were not completely accurate. Julie Rath, Redwood Area Economic Developer worked with Brent Legg and the affected provider to get up to date information submitted. We are looking forward to seeing the revised maps!

Fiber Meeting in Dawson February 24

The ARRA-funded projects are starting to pop up in the forms of networks – or at least promotion for networks – and the latest evidence is a community meeting is planned for later this week in Dawson. According to the Lac qui Parle EDA web site

Residents in Lac qui Parle County will soon be able to receive the benefits of fiber optics. This will allow residents to subscribe to Phone, Cable TV and High Speed Internet services from Farmers Mutual. This Open House event will provide information on these options to residents of the area. Everyone is encouraged to attend!

Fiber Optic Network Meeting
Thursday, February 24, 2011
OPEN HOUSE 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Dawson City Hall
Dawson, Minnesota


More on SMBS’ plan to add wireless to their FTTH network

Last week I got to speak with John Schultz from U-reka Broadband about Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services and their plans to add wireless to their FTTH network in Southwest Minnesota. I think it’s a great example of where a community wasn’t asked to choose between the two but recognized the inherent strengths in each platform. You can hear how it came about, what it will mean to the communities served and advice for others thinking about how to provide broadband access.

I have to pull out one of the highlights. John points out the advantaged of adding wireless. In the short term wireless is a good way to provide service to hard to reach areas; in the long term it will offer mobility, which opens the door to more applications especially for folks who are in the field.

And by “in the field” we mean literally in the field. I found a fun article written by a dairy farmer (in California) that highlights the top mobile Apps for Farmers. Truthfully most of the apps would be helpful to anyone, which sort of makes the case that most of us are in the field at least part of our day.