5G Will Mean Better Speeds and Telehealth, FCC Chair Says

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai visited Abilene Memorial Hospital in Kansas last week to observe how broadband connects the local emergency department with specialists in South Dakota.

by Tim Horan, Abilene Reflector-Chronicle / September 24, 2019
Doctors in Mexico and California consult via real-time video. Wikipedia

(TNS) — The next generation of wireless connectivity, known as 5G, is around the corner for broadband consumers, said Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

“5G promises speeds that are 100 times as fast as 4G LTE,” Pai said. “The amount of data that you can send wirelessly will be much greater. Especially in some of these rural communities, 5G could be a significant benefit and not just for telemedicine but for precision agriculture, online education, e-commerce and civic engagement.”

The Consumer Technology Association has pointed out that at 5G speed, one can download a 2-hour movie in just 3.6 seconds, versus 6 minutes on 4G or 26 hours on 3G.

“We are focused on making sure that 5G extends to all parts of the country, particularly to rural Americans,” Pai said.

Pai visited Abilene Memorial Hospital in Kansas last week to observe how broadband connects the local emergency department with specialists in South Dakota.

Satellites

The next generation for wireless could also include innovations in outer space.

“Over the last two years, the FCC has authorized the first-ever low Earth orbit satellite constellations,” Pai said. “These are thousands of satellites that can be launched by businesses that can beam internet access back to the Earth at a speed and at a price point that would be comparable to what you can get with a terrestrial provider.”

He said this would provide access in rural areas where web access is prohibitive, such as mountain areas.

“Satellite internet along these lines might be very useful,” he said.

Pai said the FCC has also been focusing on making sure there is both access to the internet and sufficient competition to keep costs down.

“That is one of the reasons why the last two years we have focused on bringing new companies in. For example, through the FCC’s subsidy program known as the University Service Fund, we’ve invited other companies to compete for broadband subsidies to build up broadband infrastructure and not just rural telephone companies, cable companies, electric utilities, satellite companies and others,” Pai said. “Our hope is that kind of competition from other companies using different kinds of technologies will help keep the cost low for residential consumers and heath care facilities like this one.”

Telehealth

Pai observed Avera Health, a telehealth system used by Abilene Memorial Hospital.

Recently Pai had visited with Dr. Brian Skow, chief medical officer for Avera, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Speaking through an Avera internet connection last week, Skow said the certified emergency doctors and nurses in Sioux Falls can assist with the examination of and decision making for patients in Abilene.

“Without connectability, it would not be possible,” Skow said of the program. “When we are promoting teleheath and how it can assist rural communities, that is probably the biggest piece: connectivity and the cost.”

Avera has 200 participating hospitals in 30 states.

“We help with critical cases like stroke, trauma, sepsis,” Skow said. “Broadband, the connectivity, is just critical to have either a T1 line or a fiber line that connects to the facility. If you don’t have a dedicated line when you are dealing with these critical patients and something would go down, it could potentially be a life loss.”

Abilene memorial has AT&T and Eagle broadband connections.

The doctors and nurses in Sioux Falls can zoom in during the incubation of a patient and can see inside the airway and the vocal cords.

“We can assist with those type of things,” Skow said.

Rural areas

“I am really impressed with what they are able to accomplish here in Abilene,” Pai said. “My top priority at the FCC has been to close the digital divide, getting internet access into rural communities that have not sufficient connectivity.”

He said that focus is to increase the quality and access to health care in rural communities.

“Especially in places like Kansas,” he said. “I think telemedicine and telehealth solutions are really one of the major positive impacts that broadband availability can have. I am really impressed what Abilene health is able to do in improving patient outcomes, giving people access that they might not otherwise have, reducing costs and otherwise making the community a stronger, healthier place.”

Kansas native

Pai grew up in Parsons and graduated from high school there in 1990.

“Whenever I get a chance to go back, I love visiting the elementary school, the high school, Labette Health where my parents were physicians for over 40 years,” he said. “It was just a wonderful place to grow up.

“The good people I had the fortune to know as a kid really helped form the person that I have become today. I try to bring that Sunflower state Ethos to Washington,” he said.

Pai graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1994 and Chicago Law School in 1997. He previously served as an FCC commissioner, appointed by then-President Barack Obama. He was designated chairman by President Donald Trump in 2017.

©2019 the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle (Abilene, Kan.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs