FCC could lift $400 million cap for rural program, giving broadband a boost

Agency is looking to crackdown on fraud, waste and abuse and plans to create a program to prioritize how money is doled out.
By Jessica Davis
12:08 PM
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FCC rural broadband

Ajit Pai leads the Federal Communications Commission. Credit: C-span

The Federal Communications Commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking Tuesday afternoon that would fortify its work to improve rural healthcare in America. 

The program is designed to support broadband connectivity for rural healthcare providers and currently has a $400 million annual cap, which has remained the same since the program’s inception in 1997. The FCC voted to raise that cap in December to support the increased use of broadband by providers.

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The FCC is considering the appropriate size for the funding cap as the program exceeded the cap in Fiscal Year 2016 and will likely exceed the cap for Fiscal Year 2017. The agency is proposing using inflation rates to determine the appropriate amount.

Officials also are proposing prioritizing funding based on remoteness or rurality, including a prioritization system on how to fairly distribute funds. Further, it proposes adopting the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Highly Rural Transportation Grant program, which prioritizes providers in highly rural areas.

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The agency also is looking for recommendations to better support the program and prevent waste, fraud and abuse. Specifically, the proposed rulemaking examines the Telecom Program, a section of the RHC program, which hasn’t been seriously reviewed or modified in 10 years.

“As technology and telemedicine assume an increasingly critical role in healthcare delivery, a well-designed RHC Program is more vital than ever,” the notice read. “In sum, rural hospitals are facing one of the great slow-moving crises in American healthcare.”

“By improving rural healthcare provider access to modern communications services, the RHC Program can help in overcoming some of the obstacles to healthcare delivery faced in isolated communities,” FCC continued.

FCC is looking for suggestions on how it can expand its Rural Health Care Program.

Those interested in filing comments on the proposal can do so within the next 30 days using the FCC’s electronic comment filing system.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com