Guest Blog: Community Broadband & Telehealth — A Symbiotic Partnership Made In Heaven

What’s your marketing mission?

What? You mean “take-rate,” right?

No. Take-rate is another way of saying “sales goals.” The marketing mission has a different kind of value than sales targets.

In the 20 years I did marketing for high-tech companies, a lot of us in that role had a marketing mission to establish for products’ certain market positions in the minds of customers, journalists, investors, and so on.

For community broadband networks, their marketing mission should be to establish a particular position for the network within the minds of their respective audiences. The right positioning campaign leads to more sales, faster close rates, partnerships, and other benefits for the community.

Now is an excellent time to start positioning your network in your market as a delivery vehicle for telehealth. The FCC announced last week they’re launching a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program to support telemedicine for low-income and rural Americans as well as veterans. Congress has several bipartisan initiatives that support telemedicine.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS), the Federal agencies that manage these programs, also last week indicated they planned to reverse themselves and start reimbursing patients for telehealth services. 90 percent of seniors recently surveyed by HealthMine said they either don’t have access to telehealth through their Medicare plan or they don’t know if they have it.

Cities revving up telehealth engines

Partnerships are key to effective positioning strategies.

Chattanooga is aggressively exploring telehealth options. “We’re very interested and committed to participating in this telemedicine market, and are evaluating our options,” says Katie Espeseth, Vice President of EPB Product Development. “We’ll soon reach 100,000 subscribers, and having partners that provide innovative products and services is how we plan to maintain our competitive edge in this market.

Danville, Virginia’s public utility is nDanville. “The healthcare argument was always understood, but it wasn’t the one of the drivers network at the time,” states Frank Maddux, MD and co-founder of Gamewood, Inc, an ISP that joined nDanville. Except for the economic development group, “People didn’t understand how important the network would become and what healthcare applications there would be. They see it now.”

Recently the city’s medical center leveraged the gig broadband network to dive into telemedicine. Sovah Health – Martinsville’s emergency department has partnered with the Duke TeleStroke Network in North Carolina to get real time access to Duke Medicine’s neurologists, stroke care specialists, and tele-stroke technology.

The better quality broadband a community has, the more effective will be the telehealth applications and services. These vendors can prosper through aggressive marketing relationships with municipalities, co-ops, wireless ISPs, and other Internet providers that grow their subscriber rolls. Everybody needs healthcare.   

On the flip side, over 750 municipal and co-op community broadband networks currently exist, and new projects begin each month. These networks can cost a lot to build, so owners have to get and keep has many subscribers as possible while fending off competitors. Nothing grows a subscriber base like innovative leading edge technology, of which telehealth has an abundance.

Bottom line – both the vendors (particularly start-ups and medium sized companies) and broadband owners share a mission – the need for plenty of customers and marketing clout. In addition, many of these organizations are committed to serving communities’ disadvantaged and the low-income residents, so there’s a shared social as well as marketing mission.

Craig Settles is an industry analyst with CJ Speaks.

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