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Francella Ochillo is New Chief at Next Century Cities, Vermont Broadband Bill, and States Ponder Telehealth

Masha Abarinova

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Next Century Cities on Tuesday announced that it had named Francella Ochillo as the non-profit organization’s new executive director.

Ochillo, currently the Vice President of Policy and General Counsel for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, has been active in testifying before Congress, meeting with the Federal Communications Commission and participating in local events across the country focused on how broadband access can revitalize communities. She begins her role on July 8.

Next Century Cities represents more than 200 member communities across the country committed to ensuring affordable, reliable broadband access for all. Ochillo will take over from Deb Socia, founded the organization in fall 2014 and has established it as a respected force advocating on behalf of local solutions and digital equity.

Gov. Scott signs broadband expansion measure in Vermont

Bennington Banner reports that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation intended to expand broadband last Thursday at Dover Town Hall. Scott said that the bill had “strong support” from the House of Representatives and Senate, commending Rep. Tim Briglin, D-Windsor-Orange-2, and Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, for their leadership on the issue.

Scott signed into law H.513, saying it "increases funding to the Connectivity Initiative, which provides access to internet services in unserved or underserved areas. Because communities have the best understanding of what they need, it enables the Vermont Economic Development Authority to lend money for build out by community groups. It also creates a new broadband innovation grant program, which will fund grassroots solutions for rural Vermont and provide communities with technical assistance from the Vermont Department of Public Service."

Briglin also said that the bill "takes an important step in starting to bridge the divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots in Vermont."

His committee studied the work of groups such as the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District, which describes itself as a municipal body with 24 member towns in east-central Vermont set up to build a community-owned fiber network. It says it has helped 3,500 customers get connected.

AARP also praised passage of the law, with Vermont State Director Greg Marchildon saying that “for older Vermonters, broadband is essential for reducing social isolation and improving access to civic engagement, telehealth and their communities."

State legislatures on the fence in regards to telehealth

The National Conference of State Legislatures published a report about how telehealth can increase access to health care in a cost-effective manner. In capitalizing on broadband technology to provide health care and other health-related services remotely, telehealth gives patients living in rural areas access to more providers and allows them to receive care in their own communities.

Telehealth can reduce health disparities for aging and underserved populations and improve access to lower-cost primary and specialty care, as well as help reduce expensive emergency room visits.

Although most agree that the services provided using telehealth would be more appropriate and less costly, the research on its effectiveness is still evolving. While telehealth can provide initial remote access, patients may require in-person follow-up care and can still face challenges in accessing that care.

State legislatures are addressing several policy issues regarding the integration of telehealth into healthcare reform. These issues include reimbursement, licensure and provider practice standards. Data on outcomes and cost-effectiveness are vital to policymakers seeking to invest state resources wisely.

(Photo of Francella Ochillo from Medium.)

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