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Health-Care Groups, County Gov Partner on Rural Internet

Health-care organizations could be part of a rural Internet pilot project in southeast Eau Claire County in Wisconsin, with officials reporting that hospital systems there have expressed interest in collaborating.

A farm in rural Pennsylvania
Shutterstock/ESB Professional
(TNS) — Health care organizations could be part of a rural internet pilot project in southeast Eau Claire County, Wis.

Eau Claire County Information Systems Director  Dave Hayden  informed the Eau Claire County Broadband Committee during its meeting Thursday that Marshfield Clinic and Hospital Sisters Health System expressed interest in collaborating on the yearlong project.

Committee members seemed supportive of the idea, so the committee will pursue a potential partnership between the county and health care organizations. The organizations are interested in partnering because better internet connection could help health care employees working from home, for example.

Hayden said the health care entities are also prepared to pay for some of the project costs, but exact figures still need to be determined.

"I think there's a willingness for them to participate at a fairly high level," Hayden said. "It seems to be very promising."

The county needs to raise around $24,000 to have the project fully funded, and Hayden said ideally all the funds would be raised before participants are chosen. If organizations like Marshfield Clinic and HSHS pay to participate in the project, the county's costs could be minimal.

The pilot project will be operated by the company SpaceX. A start date for the county project hasn't been determined, but Hayden said SpaceX is "anxious to get going" so the sooner it starts, the better.

To fund the project, Eau Claire County is responsible for paying SpaceX $85,000 over 12 months, but some of that should be covered by a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. that is expected to be awarded to the Broadband Committee.

The project will serve between 30 and 50 users from six groups: agriculture, telemedicine, telework, remote education, business and residential. Financial need will also be a consideration for potential users. The SpaceX service area includes parts of Trempealeau County, but Hayden said Eau Claire County should be able to fill all 50 user spots.

In addition to individual residents who will be selected to participate, the Broadband Committee will likely let organizational partners select their participants. A school district could agree to a certain number of users and then choose users based on how the technology can be used best, for example.

The equipment will likely need to be self-installed, so that process could be more labor-intensive than initially anticipated. The installation kit includes a router, power supply, cables and mounting tripod, meaning some of the equipment would be installed outside a residence and then connected to other equipment inside the residence.

"I think it's important that participants are aware of this up front," said  Scott Hoffmann , committee member.

To increase awareness about the project, the county is planning to send an informational letter to potential participants in the near future.

The next Broadband Committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18.

(c)2021 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.