About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

Talking about MN Broadband on Art Ware’s Gospel Hour Radio show

It seems like a funny mix – gospel and broadband. Except I’ve certainly heard people sing the praises of broadband and the blues of not having it. Either way, I had the great honor of bring on Arthur Ware’s Gospel Hour on Sunday morning today.

Art is a broadband champion in Albany NY and the radio show is out of Skidmore College. He is a founder of Technology Financing In Healthcare exceeding. He’s active in the Intelligent Community Forum as  juror. He is an ordained evangelical pastors and has great taste in gospel music. It was fun to connect with him – as I like to think of myself as a broadband champion and I have a radio show too – Mostly MN Music out of Macalester College in St Paul MN. (It’s more podcast now due to COVID.)

The conversation is retrospective of broadband in Minnesota, starting when I worked for MRNet in 1994 and up to the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband 2020 conference. We spoke about Blandin’s earliest work with their broadband vision nearly 20 years ago, MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) initiative and the Minnesota Model.

Sen. Smith says we need to expand telehealth

Axios reports

The expansion in telehealth services to address the coronavirus pandemic needs to continue, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said on Friday at a virtual Axios event.

Specifically what she said…

Patients and providers have described telehealth as a lifeline, Smith said, especially in the need for mental health care, which has exploded during the pandemic.

  • Telehealth offers an avenue for addressing the uptick in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, “not as a complete substitution for in-person care but as a way of making care more accessible.”

  • The ability to speak with providers in the privacy of one’s own home especially helps those struggling with the stigma around mental health care, according to Smith.

  • Innovation in telehealth must continue after the pandemic ends, and “what we need to make sure is that those higher reimbursement rates on par with a personal visit don’t go away,” Smith said.

FCC broadband stats are out (Form 477) – measuring speeds from 10/1 to 250/25

The FCC releases info on the recent broadband data (Dec 31, 2019)…

The Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Economics and Analytics today released data showing that the digital divide is closing.  At the end of 2019, the number of Americans living in areas without access to terrestrial fixed broadband with speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps—the Commission’s benchmark for high-speed broadband—fell to 14.5 million, a 46% decrease from the end of 2016.  Services at higher speeds saw even more significant deployment, with the number of Americans living in areas without broadband speeds of at least 250/25 Mbps falling by 77% since the end of 2016.  During that three-year period, the number of rural Americans living in areas with 250/25 Mbps broadband service increased by 268%.

And a little more info…

The updated broadband deployment data, based on the FCC’s Form 477 filings, includes fixed terrestrial (including fixed wireless) and mobile broadband deployment at speeds ranging from 10/1 Mbps to 250/25 Mbps. Fixed broadband deployment data are available at https://www.fcc.gov/general/broadband-deployment-data-fcc-form-477 and can be viewed on the National Broadband Map at https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov.  Mobile deployment data are available at https://www.fcc.gov/mobile-deployment-form-477-data.  The Commission will continue its efforts to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality broadband.

It’s interesting to look at the range of speeds they test from 10/1 to 250/25. First, the range is huge. It’s mind boggling to think that we are calling both 10/1 and 250/25 broadband. I guess we could make the case that they are no longer calling 10/1 broadband but measuring indicates that it’s still on the radar. Second, the upload is 10 percent of the download. That difference seems too great, especially since I often hear that download is consumption and upload is production. I think we are especially seeing this during the pandemic as families are trying to support multiple workers and learners from home.

Broadband policy at the federal level – ideas maybe in limbo

For two days, it’s been pretty quiet on the broadband front in Minnesota. Like a parent of a toddler, I both enjoy the quiet and wonder what’s happening in the next room. From the view in MN, the next room is probably writing up the MN Broadband Task Force report. No probably about it, I’m part of the team and it’s happening. No more to report on that then I did after the Task Force meeting on Tuesday.

It’s the federal stuff that feels up in the air – but then isn’t everything during this administration transition or at least in the ante chamber waiting for transition. It looks like folks are trying to get broadband policy makers to tread water for a while…

E&C Leaders demand Trump FCC and FTC stop work on controversial items in light of election results
“With the results of the 2020 presidential election now apparent, leadership of the FTC will undoubtedly be changing,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote in a letter to the FTC.  “As a traditional part of the transfer of power — and as part of our oversight responsibilities — we strongly urge the agency to only pursue consensus and administrative matters that are non-partisan for the remainder of your tenure.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks supported their recommendations.

Time will tell how that works; otherwise looks like Biden has pulled together a transition team.

OPPORTUNITY: How Intelligent is Your Community? Submit a questionnaire to ICF to find out!

I was just saying to someone today that what gets measured gets done! Why not start the next stage of your broadband plan with an assessment from the Intelligent Community Forum?

ICF publishes research based on the data provided by communities like yours around the world. The goal is to provide cities, towns and regions of all sizes with evidence-based guidance on achieving economic, social and cultural growth in the challenging digital age.
By completing this questionnaire, you will:

There is no cost to submit a questionnaire. If you wish to be considered for the 2021 Intelligent Community Awards, the deadline to submit a questionnaire is January 11, 2021. Click here to learn more and submit your questionnaire. Nominees for the Intelligent Community Awards are evaluated based on ICF’s six factors that make up the ICF Method. Click here to learn more.

MN Broadband Task Force: working on report – questions about speeds, funds, unserved vs underserved and a request from MN Mayors

I tried to take more complete notes today in part because the recording can be difficult to watch. I have to rig up a system that would make MacGyver proud to get these sessions streamed and archived and I know they are less than perfect.

At a very high level – each of the three subcommittees presented their recommendations. There was a lot of overlap with recommendations, yet not complete agreement.

There is agreement that there should be funding for the grants and the Office of Broadband Development. There seemed to be agreement that funding should be ongoing. There weren’t any confirmed dollar amounts attached to those investments – although $75M per biennium was mentioned. From each member of the Task Force to the Governor, there seemed to be agreement tat COVID as exacerbated the demand for greater and more ubiquitous broadband.

There was disagreement on:

  • Focus on unserved versus underserved
  • Speed goals/benchmarks – from 25/3 to 100/20 to 100/100
  • Concerns about role of OBD (and others) in terms of communications, coordination and regulation

There were discussion of politic decisions such as deciding to focus on funding over change or asking for more than you think you’ll get.

9:45 a.m. Welcome, Introductions, Meeting Overview
10:00 a.m. Gov. Tim Walz conversation with the Task Force

Governor Walz spoke to the Task Force. Here are some of his observations

  • the need for broadband upload and download at industry standards has increased during COVID
  • broadband is an investment
  • there are local government commissioners that cannot participate is zoom calls
  • Because MN did not finish the border to border broadband goal before COVID, people were put at a disadvantage
  • COVID forced us to move quickly
  • Broadband funding will need to be ongoing. It’s not a problem that gets solved.

Q: Is broadband part of the proposed state budget?
A: The budget is not yet created but it seems likely and there will likely to have even stronger support

Q: How/why are schools being  held responsible for providing broadband access to un/underserved families?
A: We view broadband as regular expenses – we can’t create unequal distribution

Q: How can we
A: Cooperative have been most successful in serving rural areas. It is an economy of scale. When it’s a business decision (for national, business providers) only the math doesn’t work. When stakeholder reward is part of the equation, that changes the math.

Q: What about CARES funding?
A: CARES funding was filtered to counties and towns. More federal funding is likely.

10:30 a.m. Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup – report content and recommendations
Recommendations:

  1. Continue Minnesota’s Border to Border state broadband grant program and fund it from the base budget.
  2. Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use and redress digital inequity.
  3. Task the Office of Broadband Development with building computer donation partnerships between state agencies and community-based organizations getting computers into the hands of those who need them.
  4. Fully fund the Telecommunications Access Equity Aid (TEA) program by raising the funding cap to at least $9 million in order to allow school districts to equitably procure the Internet and network bandwidth needed to fully support digital learning.

[had those at the ready since I’m helping with that portion of the report]

Discussion:

  • The MN Model group is coming up with a number for funding the fund; $70M per biennium was mentioned.
  • Need to talk to  Office of BB Development about a number for funding adoption coordination.
  • Concerns that #3 might compete with ConnectedMN and/or PCs for People. Or is this more of a prioritization of tasks for OBD than funding question
  • With #4 cost per student for technology is not consistent throughout MN, which create a situation ripe for inequity.

11:15 a.m. Barriers and Technology Subgroup – report content and recommendations

  1. MN should invest is getting the 157,000 unserved households access to broadband at speeds of at least 100/20.
  2. Funding for the OBD should come from base budget and include a focus on mapping
  3. The Task Force and OBD should work with the state and providers to create greater communication channels to streamline broadband deployment.

Discussion:

  • Do we really want to focus on unserved versus underserved? (with #1)
  • There are concerns about getting into the regulations with #3. Providers prefer that broadband not be regulated by the state. BUT it looks like they are talking more about creating a clearing house for info more than regulators.

12:30 p.m. Public Comment – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson discussing the Minnesota Mayors Together letter (See the letter)

The Mayors Together group are prioritizing broadband. It’s a nonpartisan group and a nonpartisan issue. IN Duluth they have a population of 85,000 and 1200 students without access. Here are their recommendations:

  1. The first of these is speed. The 2026 goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, while it may have seemed aggressive when it was adopted, now looks somewhat modest. Why not recommend what the Border-to-Border grant has enabled in some areas of the state: 100 and 100?
  2. Second, we would urge the task force to tell legislators that this is an ongoing challenge, that having good access and speed is vital to all Minnesotans. As such, this investment should be a regular and recurring feature of the state’s operating budget. So, we would ask you to say that the Legislature consider the $35-50 million as an annual expenditure – for many years.

12:45 p.m. Minnesota Model Subgroup – report content and recommendations

Recommendations:

  1. $75 million per biennium
  2. No change to grants
  3. 25/3 is irrelevant
  4. No mapping changes (since change needs to happen after next year)
  5. Fund the OBD
  6. Fund the fund

Discussion

  • Where did the $75 Million come from? The 2018 TF report had a calculation that came to $70; the 2013 TF report suggested $100M. Might need to work on an estimated cost per passing to figure it out.
  • The 25/3 access isn’t irrelevant because of the demographics.
    Except 3 Mbps up during a pandemic doesn’t work for most families
    We have given legislators roadmaps with the 25/3 and 100/20 benchmarks. Is that fair to change now?
    We don’t’ need to change that just add a new benchmark moving forward?
    The pandemic will be over by mid-2021
  • Should we wait on policy changes until next year and focus only on funding this year?
  • We have another speed test that is not supporting what the OBD maps are finding so it seems like what we’re showing the legislators may not gel with the truth anyways.
  • Changing the speed goals will change reality; you can still show they outdated maps.
  • Can we change the speed goals to 100/100.
    On the ground what is the difference when designing/developing 100/100 versus 100/20?
    100/100 is fiber / 100/20 is tech neutral
    CenturyLink can provide 100/20 with copper at short distances but we cannot provide 100/100

T‑Mobile Expands Home Internet to More Than 130 Additional Cities & Towns

The news from T-Mobile

 T-Mobile is expanding its $50/month Home Internet pilot service AGAIN, to more than 130 additional cities and towns across nine states. Today, T-Mobile is bringing more competition to home broadband — especially in underserved rural markets — through LTE-based coverage, with 5G service coming soon.

Here are the states with new service…

Households in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin who are ready to break up with their home internet provider.

And here are the cities in Minnesota…

Albert Lea
Alexandria
Austin
Bemidji
Brainerd
Duluth
Fairmont
Faribault-Northfield
Fergus Falls
Grand Rapids
Hutchinson
Mankato
Marshall
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington
New Ulm
Owatonna
Red Wing
Rochester
St. Cloud
Willmar
Winona
Worthington

Broadband is powerful civic tool – for those with access

Francella Ochillo posts in Tech Dirt about the power of a global network…

The internet has increasingly become the public square just as high-speed connectivity has become the lifeblood of our economy. In a post-COVID landscape, when Americans need broadband to work and learn from home and medical attention requires making an appointment online, access impacts our quality of life. It also determines who and how households will recover from the pandemic and its economic fallout.

What’s more, the internet has introduced once unimaginable possibilities for the most disenfranchised voices among us. Standing Rock. Flint. Minneapolis. These movements are a part of our lexicon, in part, because organizers had access to a universal platform, then dared the nation to collectively say her name – equality.

And the barrier that is keeping too many people from fully benefitting from that network…

It is hard to argue with the facts. While remote learning mandates remain in place, six in ten low-income students have to attend online classes via cell phone or search for a public WiFi access point, while others have simply disappeared from their class rosters because they do not have a device to get online. Approximately half of Americans living on Tribal lands and one-third of those living in rural areas still do not have reliable connections. Their job opportunities, online businesses, and remote access to health care have suffered accordingly.

Roughly one-third of African American and Hispanic households struggle with digital access, adoption, and literacy. Deutsche Bank estimates that “76% of Blacks and 62% of Hispanics could get shut out or be underprepared for 86% of jobs in the US by 2045.” Meanwhile, over forty percent of adults at or below the poverty line do not have reliable broadband of any kind.

And a call to governments to do better…

Since the National Broadband Plan was introduced in 2010, we have learned that when the market rewards providers with profits and control, they will come. However, relying on market forces alone cannot ensure that every community has access to broadband, a vital public good as important as electricity or clean water.

Federal policy designed to support broadband deployment strategies were based on the assumption that local and state entities would carry the mantle on increasing adoption. But, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, local and state governments are strapped for resources. Even if they are able to scrape together investments for digital infrastructure and adoption programs, few have adequate resources to do both well.

The digital divide has been relentless and unforgiving in the most under resourced communities, which have concurrently had to combat the threats from the COVID-19 pandemic, economic instability, and food insecurity. Ironically, being able to get online remains most elusive for those in the greatest need of digital pathways out of poverty.

EVENT Nov 10: MN Broadband Task Force – agenda, new member & letter from Mayors

First – the agenda for tomorrow…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
November 10, 2020
9:45 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Virtual Meeting will use the Microsoft Teams platform:
Microsoft Teams meeting
Join on your computer or mobile app
Click here to join the meeting
Or call in (audio only)
+1 763-317-4323,,706772572#   United States, Plymouth
Phone Conference ID: 706 772 572#

9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                  Welcome, Introductions, Meeting Overview
10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.                Gov. Tim Walz conversation with the Task Force
10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.                Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup – report content and recommendations
11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.                Barriers and Technology Subgroup – report content and recommendations
12:00 p.m. — 12:30 p.m.               Break for Lunch
12:30 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.                Public Comment

  • Duluth Mayor Emily Larson discussing the Minnesota Mayors Together letter
  • Other public comment

12:45 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.                  Minnesota Model Subgroup – report content and recommendations
1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.                     Other Business, Next Steps, Wrap-up

One of the things they will be discussing is a letter from a group called Mayors Together that asks the Task to remember a few things with the recommendations…

We are writing to urge the task force, as it finalizes its report to the Legislature, to make two
clear recommendations:
• The first of these is speed. The 2026 goal of 100 Mbsp download and 20 Mbsp upload, while it may have seemed aggressive when it was adopted, now looks somewhat
modest. Why not recommend what the Border-to-Border grant has enabled in some areas of the state: 100 and 100?
• Second, we would urge the task force to tell legislators that this is an ongoing challenge, that having good access and speed is vital to all Minnesotans. As such, this investment should be a regular and recurring feature of the state’s operating budget. So, we would ask you to say that the Legislature consider the $35-50 million as an annual expenditure – for many years.

Finally, they will be welcoming the newest member of the MN Broadband Task Force…

Yvonne Cariveau is the Director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the College of

Business at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Dr. Cariveau is also Principal owner and President of

Internet Connections/VoyageurWeb, a company providing web site hosting, custom programming and

website accessibility testing services. She received her Doctor of Philosophy in Marketing from the

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management. She resides in Mankato, MN.

Yvonne will be filling the seat vacated by Shannon Heim.

HBC Expands Broadband in Rural Winona and Dakota Counties

Big news for HBC as well as Rural Winona and Dakota Counties …

Construction is underway in parts of rural Winona and Dakota county to expand rural broadband Internet through monies provided by the CARES Act.
Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) president, Dan Pecarina, announced HBC is expanding existing networks near Pickwick and Rollingstone in Winona County. And in Dakota County, construction is underway in Nininger Township and an area near Highway 46 and 160th Street.
“HBC is proud to be partnering with Winona and Dakota counties on these projects. Each project helps us in our commitment to expand broadband to the underserved and unserved areas of our region,” said Pecarina. “The COVID-19 pandemic has really underscored how important a broadband connection is in today’s world. When completed, these projects will help provide services that will not only help students learn from home but allow their parents to work remotely.”
Construction in the Pickwick area and Nininger township is currently underway. Michael Barker, Director of Technical Operations at HBC, said the plan is to finish all construction by year’s end.
“Right now, crews are actively working near Pickwick and Nininger (township),” he said. “If the weather holds, we should complete construction operations by the end of the year.”
In addition to the fiber-optic network expansion, HBC has already activated a broadband fixed wireless tower near Nodine in Winona County. HBC will also be activating five broadband fixed wireless towers in Dakota County.
Winona County has allotted $1 million in CARES funding to pay for rural broadband expansion projects. Dakota County has earmarked $800,000 for its broadband expansion projects.
“When work is completed,” Pecarina said, “more than 800 homes that previously had no highspeed broadband access will now have the access they need for learning and working from home.”

FCC opens Connected Care Pilot Application: funding for low-income and vets

The FCC provides more information on their Pilot Program, which will provide up to $100 million from the Universal Service Fund over a three-year period to support the provision of connected care services, with an emphasis on supporting these services for low-income Americans and veterans….

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today announced that the Connected Care Pilot Program application window will open on November 6 at 12:00 p.m. ET and will remain open for 30 days through December 7, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. ET.  The Public Notice also provides additional guidance concerning the application submission process, prerequisites for the submission of an application, and provides examples of services eligible for support.  The Pilot Program will provide up to $100 million from the Universal Service Fund over a three-year period to support the provision of connected care services.

“In the past year, connectivity has become an increasingly critical component of delivering health care services in our country,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  “Spearheaded by Commissioner Carr, our Connected Care Pilot Program explores how universal service support can provide next-level health care to our nation’s most vulnerable populations, including low-income Americans and veterans.  With the opening of this application window, the FCC affirms its commitment to driving the future of health care delivery and supporting innovative pilot projects across the country.”

“I want to thank Chairman Pai for the chance to lead the FCC’s work on this telehealth initiative—one that will improve patient outcomes and drive down the costs of care for so many Americans,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

The Commission adopted rules for the Connected Care Pilot Program on March 31, 2020.  The Connected Care Pilot Program is open to nonprofit and public eligible health care providers, located anywhere in the country.  Specifically, the Pilot Program will use Universal Service Fund monies to help defray the costs of connected care services for eligible health care providers, providing support for 85% of the cost of eligible services and network equipment, which include: (1) patient broadband Internet access services; (2) health care provider broadband data connections; (3) other connected care information services; and (4) certain network equipment.  The Pilot Program will not provide funding for end-user devices.

On September 3, 2020, the FCC issued a Public Notice with guidance on program eligibility and information that applicants will be required to submit as part of their applications.  An eligibility determination is required for each health care provider site that will be included in an application for the Pilot Program.  Health care provider sites that the Universal Service Administrative Company has already deemed eligible to participate in the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program or COVID-19 Telehealth Program may rely on that eligibility determination for the Pilot Program.

The Commission will accept applications for the Pilot Program through an online application system available on the Universal Service Administrative Company’s website beginning Friday, November 6, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. ET.  After the close of the application window, the Commission will make timely filed applications available in the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) under Docket No. WC 18-213.

For further information regarding today’s Public Notice, email ConnectedCare@fcc.gov. Additional information and updates will be posted on the Connected Care Pilot Program web page.

MN East (Iron) Range Broadband Feasibility Study Presentation: lessons for the area and beyond

Thanks to Karl Schuetter from the Northspan Group for sending me info on the recent East Range Broadband Feasibility Study Presentation. It’s clearly helpful to anyone in the area but helpful to folks in different areas too. Listen to what might be similar in your community and what differentiates your situation. That will help you recognize your assets and “areas for improvement.” Honestly it really helps to see what other communities are dealing with to see your own community more clearly and it’s inspiring to hear the good questions from community members and the plans to approach decisions makers to make things happen!

(And if you have similar to share from your community – please send it my way!)

The presentation looks at:

  • Why Local Governments are Investing in Broadband
  • Lessons learned from the pandemic
  • Existing services and providers
  • Models for gigabit service (costs and financial help)
  • Next steps

From their site…

Over the past two years, the East Range has worked on a regional project to understand what we need to do to improve our broadband. Now, it’s time for our broadband consultant, Diane Kruse of NEO Connect, to share the results of her work. The data she shares will give us the necessary information to make a case for stronger service and apply for state and federal grants. Watch the video of the event here!

MN Rural Broadband Coalition: AARP Minnesota Partners with MN Speed Test Initiative

From the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

We would like to inform you about the recent work that the MN Speed Test Initiative has been doing in partnership with AARP Minnesota. AARP is fighting for Minnesotans to have access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet in the communities where they live. For too many Americans, the high-speed internet they need in order to access opportunities and succeed in today’s economy is not available where they live—and this holds them back.
As you may already know, our speed testing results have risen dramatically during the month of October. This is a direct result of the roll out of AARP’s social media, email, and news media strategy this month.
AARP generously offered several media spots for the Coalition to promote the speed test. A radio and print piece was published by Public News Service on October 7. KMOJ community radio in Minneapolis recorded and aired an interview about the speed test on October 10 during their morning show. Finally, KARE 11-TV conducted a lengthy interview that aired on October 12 during the 4:00pm news. This interview generated so much traffic to our site that the Coalition’s website crashed for a few minutes after the segment aired. We generated over 3,000 speed tests taken in one day as a result.
In addition to news media outreach, AARP has also been promoting the speed test on their social media channels. They have written and posted a blog entry on their website. They have also sent out an email blast to every AARP member in Minnesota.
We encourage you to sign up for AARP MN’s upcoming “Building Great Places for People of All Ages” conference. One item they will be reviewing is progress from the Governor’s Council on an Age-Friendly Minnesota, which has made access to broadband a major recommendation. The conference is free and virtual and runs from November 17-18.
Again, we want to thank AARP MN and their team for their generous contribution of time and resources to the speed test initiative. Partnerships like this are exactly the kind that will make our work a success.

Telederm made more popular during pandemic, needs policy changes to continue post pandemic

Healio reports

“The COVID-19 pandemic has kind of forced our hand to accelerate the use of telehealth, or ‘telederm’ as we nickname it in dermatology,” Dawn Marie R. Davis, MD, professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said. “It’s a dyad, and both parties, the provider or organization and the patients, have to be comfortable with using telehealth platforms.”

A majority of those surveyed had tried and liked it…

A July survey from Harmony Healthcare of more than 2,000 Americans found the majority to believe telehealth provides not only safety in this time of a global medical crisis, but also convenience for those seeking care.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they had used telehealth before COVID-19, with 67% using it since COVID-19.

The top reason for using telehealth was convenience, cited by 63% of respondents. Safety and avoiding virus exposure were cited by 59% and flexibility by 46%.

But the way to move forward is in policy, not medicine not even technology at this point…

Billing telemedicine visits has historically been a major obstacle. Previously there were few reimbursement codes for most forms of telehealth, but in March, when the pandemic shut down many practices, exceptions were made to allow for it.

CMS broadened access to telehealth with a temporary emergency waiver allowing payment for services conducted electronically during the pandemic, and many insurance companies have followed suit.

“The limitation with telemedicine wasn’t that we didn’t know how to use it or that it wasn’t part of our lexicon. The limitation was that we couldn’t do it because it wasn’t reimbursable,” Friedman said. “When the federal waivers went into effect and all of a sudden we have a handy little modifier on our billing, we could now do telemedicine for pretty much everyone.”

The American Academy of Dermatology has since released guidelines on telemedicine that explain the CMS guidance and inform dermatologists of the best ways to proceed with telehealth in their practices. The academy’s teledermatology toolkit includes a downloadable flowchart to keep track of the correct codes, as well as a downloadable coding guide.

While the waivers have been extended to the end of 2020, it is still a question if telehealth coding will be as easily accessible as the pandemic becomes less severe.

“The biggest issues are, ‘Will these visits be reimbursed? Will we lose money doing telehealth?’ and we just don’t know yet,” Friedman asked.

The continuation of telehealth codes and reimbursement will be the only way to provide the option for patients.

Incumbent Carlton County Board of Commissioners regain seats – recognize importance of broadband

Duluth News Tribune reports on the Carlton County Board of Commissioners results…

The incumbents in Districts 1 and 5 retained their seats on the board. …

In District 1, incumbent Dick Brenner kept the seat he’s held for 28 years, while Gary Peterson was reelected to his District 5 seat.

Both recognize that broadband is a top priority…

The COVID-19 pandemic, the Carlton County Jail replacement project and broadband were among the big issues Brenner said the county will have to tackle in the future.

More details….

Peterson said the biggest issues currently facing Carlton County are the jail project, broadband access and road replacement.

“Obviously we’re concerned about broadband, and I think the big thing is to work with our federal and state people and all of us working together to see if we can come up with some solutions,” he said.