1. Carrier Ethernet Supports Huge Telehealth Network In Northeast

    CEN Feature (Dec 11 2012)

    1. Carrier Ethernet Supports Huge Telehealth Network In Northeast

      More than six years in the works, the 400-member New England Telehealth Consortium (NETC) network goes live next week with its first official customers. FairPoint Communications is providing 40G of E-line service to two NETC-owned and operated core routers. The Portland, Maine-based service provider also is building two Ethernet virtual circuits to connect every member site to both core routers.

      NETC was started in motion by Jim Rogers, president of ProInfoNet, an independent consulting firm. In 2006, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called for applications for its Rural Healthcare Pilot Program (RHCPP), Rogers asked some of his healthcare clients whether they would like to get an 85% RHCPP subsidy on their telecom bills for a 10-year period while expanding their telehealth and telemedicine capabilities. Their interest encouraged Rogers to form the NETC non-profit and continue talking to healthcare providers in the Northeast.

      “I knocked on doors of hospitals and clinics in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Before I was done I had more than 400 companies that wanted to be on the RHCPP application,” said Rogers.

      Realizing that the funding he could get from the FCC would not cover the cost of a three-state, 400-member fiber network, Rogers calculated how much it would cost to purchase necessary bandwidth and services from existing carriers. He came up with a figure of $24.6 million, applied for that amount and won it. While a total of 69 applicants won RHCPP awards, NETC was the largest project to obtain funding, he added.

      Service across the miles

      Rogers originally thought that NETC would not be able to get the bulk of its services from one service provider. However, FairPoint, which had invested more than $190 million in communication infrastructure and technology to upgrade its network in northern New England since 2008, had NETC’s needs almost completely covered. Seven other carriers are providing the remaining two percent of footprint, he added.

      “Chances are that we have facilities of some kind to serve NETC’s 400 plus locations,” said Mike Reed, Maine state president for FairPoint. “If a building doesn’t already have fiber, we can run additional fiber or use Ethernet over Copper depending on the amount of bandwidth each facility needs.”

      Hospitals, clinics, universities, community health centers and research facilities on the network can choose any amount of bandwidth between a T1 and 1G in 10 Mbps increments, said Rogers. The majority of NETC members are looking for 10 Mbps and above, he added. The links will deliver remote trauma and expanded telemedicine capabilities, which will increase the quality care for patients in rural locations. Medical professionals across the network will have convenient and speedy access patient records and the latest research and medical advances.

      In addition to providing its own services, NETC built, and is operating, its own 24x7 Network Operations Center. The network’s two core routers are located in Bangor, ME and Lebanon, NH. They deliver services to edge routers at each NETC member’s facility. The edge routers contain two customer-facing physical ports. One provides NetConnect E-LAN service for that member company’s site or sites. The other port provides NetCommunity service, which enables the member company to create virtual LANs with any other NETC member. The NetCommunity port also provides Internet or Internet2 connectivity, Rogers explained.

      As specified by the FCC, both rural and urban companies are involved in the pilot program. Within six months, more than 50% of NETC’s 400 members will be connected to the network. The rest will be up and running within a year, he said. Healthcare providers in NETC’s footprint that did not join the original consortium, or dropped off during the application process, can apply to come aboard. NETC does have enough remaining funds to add more sites.

      Given the opportunity, Rogers said he would very much like to duplicate NETC elsewhere.

      “The FCC’s goal and vision for the RHCPP back in 2006 was to connect more than 6000 hospitals and clinics together so they could exchange information,” he said. “The vision was to use National Lambda Rail or Internet2. Several projects, including ours, are using Internet2.”

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