In early August, U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski toured California to build support for the FCC’s ongoing effort to create the nation’s first broadband plan. Genachowski’s trip, along with the 18 broadband hearings the FCC will hold before the end of the summer, is intended to show that the FCC is planning a highly ambitious proposal for the country’s IT infrastructure. “Broadband is our generation’s infrastructure challenge,” says Genachowski. “It is as important as electricity and highways were for past generations.” The stimulus package has set aside $7 billion for broadband grants and loans. Genachowski says President Obama and Congress have asked for an ambitious broadband effort, and points out that when Congress ordered the FCC to deliver a plan next February it specified that the plan should promote national priorities, including health, anti-terrorism, education, and disaster preparedness. Broadband has already advanced medical practices, including taking and sending photos of babies’ eyes to ophthalmologists to help prevent retinopathy, or connecting specialists to rural hospitals to allow doctors to examine patients who are miles away. However, even less expensive broadband and technology may not be enough to persuade hospitals to upgrade to new technology because the nation’s health insurance reimbursement system often will not pay for e-consults, including Medicare. “We are just scratching [the] surface of what broadband technology can do for the country,” says Genachowski. “I don’t think enough people appreciate the very real, practical benefits that a 21st century telecom infrastructure can provide.”
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