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Oklahoma Corporation Commission hears from telemedicine providers on broadband needs

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission heard from telemedicine providers as it contemplates possible changes to the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund, which paid out $32 million in reimbursements in the 2013 fiscal year.
by Paul Monies Published: August 21, 2013

Efforts to increase the transparency of Oklahoma Universal Service Fund recipients and how hospitals use Internet services for telemedicine were among the topics discussed Tuesday at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

The commission's public utility division held the second of three technical conferences on proposed changes to the state's Universal Service Fund, which comes from fees tacked onto landline and wireless telephone customers in Oklahoma.

A portion of the fund goes to telemedicine services, but there has been concern providers have been overselling equipment and services to hospitals beyond what they need. Reimbursements for telemedicine made up the largest part — $27.8 million — of the $32 million paid out by the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund in fiscal year 2013.

Commission staff asked representatives from Cox Communications, AT&T Inc. and other providers what kinds of issues were unique to the pricing of broadband Internet for telemedicine.

“Our concern is that to the extent something is free of charge, there may not be that much incentive to shop around various carriers,” said Maribeth Snapp, the commission's telecom policy director.

Debi Sovereign, a consultant for the Telehealth Alliance of Oklahoma, said timing is critical for emergency telemedicine. She said bandwidth and latency, or lag in the connection, are keys to effective telemedicine support.

“The more bandwidth you have, the smaller your latency,” Sovereign said. “Latency is critical, for example, when you're watching a heart and need to see the waves in that heart. It's a motion that you're looking for, and if you have any latency at all, then you might miss something. That is one of the things that is driving bandwidth.”

Sovereign said hospitals have requirements for pricing and competitive bidding. She said they try to get at least two or three bids on telemedicine contracts.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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set Sept. 12

The state Corporation Commission's third technical conference on changes to the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund will be Sept. 12 in Oklahoma City.


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