It’s darn near a clichÃ?: one of the big justifications municipalities make for finding their own broadband systems is for telemedicine applications. But much more can be accomplished for much less. Discussing the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) States and Nation Policy Summit in Phoenix, Dr. Ronald Weinstein, program director said uses a high-speed leased network backbone to connect 171 hospitals, medical centers and other health care organizations throughout the state. Applications include 24/7 teleradiology, patient consultation and observation and telepsychiatry. The network reaches rural hospitals, prisons and Indian reservations and just marked its tenth anniversary (it’s not has if telemedicine is that new). A program of the University of Arizona Health Science Center, the project received finding from the Arizona state legislature, but largely subsists on grants from diverse federal funds, which totaled $20 million in 2005. Although municipal projects make much of the need for high-speed local networking, the Arizona network, while making use of a high-speed backbone, uses managed bandwidth allocation to balance loads. Much of the manpower and investment goes for equipment and the hospital end, and even then the accent is on economy. The network even supports IP telecommunications. Weinstein told me that one of the Navajo tribes funded and extension of the network throughout the reservation. I’ll concede that government funding is involved here, but the program’s grants come through a competitive process. Needless to say, no one felt that a municipality had to ask its taxpayers to take up the cost burden. Arizona certainly didn’t go out and build the infrastructure itself. The project also recognized that a sound business plan, training and standardization were more critical elements. All of these alternatives are important to remember, especially as Reason releases its report on the difficulties in Provo, Utah, a municipal system that started with high hopes and ends up in mounting debt.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.