FARMINGTON – The ConnectME Authority recently awarded six grants to expand broadband
communications services to underserved areas in Maine, including a $357,840 grant to Franklin Community Health Network for the construction of a fiber optic cable network that will connect three partnering medical centers and seven health care facilities in six towns across Franklin, Oxford, and
Androscoggin counties, providing high speed telehealth services.
The ConnectME funds will provide the first year match requirement for a $3.6 million Federal Communications Commission Rural Health Care Pilot Project grant, which FCHN received in November 2007. The ConnectME Authority was established to stimulate investment in advanced communications technology infrastructure in unserved or underserved areas of Maine, with the emphasis on those areas that are unlikely to receive service from a traditional provider.
The other five recipients of the ConnectME grants are: Axiom Technologies, Town of Steuben; Axiom Technologies, 31 Towns in Washington County; Cornerstone Communications, 17 Towns in Moosehead Lake region; Mainely Wired, Town of Penobscot, surrounding area; and Redzone Wireless, Mount
Desert Island, surrounding communities.
“While all six projects are exciting and effective solutions to the increasing necessity for broadband services in rural Maine, being able to assist Franklin Community Health Network is particularly satisfying,” said Phil Lindley, executive director of the ConnectME Authority. “This project is a long-term investment in the technology infrastructure of a very rural area of Maine that will provide access to state-of-the-art health services as well as providing potential economic development benefits to businesses in the area,” he added.
Called the Rural Western and Central Maine Broadband Initiative, it is a collaborative proposal spearheaded by FCHN and involving HealthReach Network Community Health Centers and Central Maine Healthcare, and will bring broadband access to health care providers and health care consumers in rural western and central Maine communities. In health care, broadband networks have been found to deliver services efficiently, reduce costs and travel time for consumers, decrease medical errors, and enable health care providers to share critical information.
“Access to high-speed Internet provided by this initiative will greatly benefit area health care providers, who will be granted uninterrupted, secure connections and increased capacity to support distance learning, telemedicine, and other emerging technologies such as digital imaging and electronic medical records,” said Ralph Johnson, FCHN chief information officer who will be responsible for the project’s implementation. “Importantly, this access will also provide area organizations with new ways to educate, connect with, and provide services to the community.”
Initially, new fiber optic cable will be put in place at Franklin Memorial Hospital, Franklin Health Livermore Falls Family Practice, Bethel Area Health Center, Belgrade Regional Health Center, Western Maine Family Health Center in Livermore Falls, and Bridgton and Rumford Hospitals. The cable will then be extended to Strong Area Health Center, Mt. Abram Regional Health Center in Kingfield, and Rangeley Region Health Center in 2010.