FCC proposal suggests rural broadband expansion is in the works
The Federal Communication Commission released a proposed update to the Rural Health Care Program last week, in an effort to satisfy the rapidly expanding need for broadband telehealth programs.
As part of the draft, the FCC would waive the $400 million annual cap for a one-time basis. The agency is also seeking comment on whether that waiver should be permanent. The FCC would also instruct the Universal Service Administrative Company to carry over any unused program funds for the fiscal year.
The cap was exceeded in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. As noted in the proposal, the FCC’s healthcare program has seen significant growth in demand in recent years -- especially in its Telecom Program, which has doubled in size from 2011 to 2016.
“As technology and telemedicine assume an increasingly critical role in healthcare delivery a well-designed Rural Health Care Program is more vital than ever,” the proposal authors wrote.
“Trends suggest that rural communities across the country are falling behind when it comes to the availability of high-quality healthcare.”
As a result, the proposal seeks to “ensure that rural healthcare providers get the support they need while guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse.” As the program commitments increased, out-of-pocket expenses for providers significantly decreased.
FCC is seeking comment on setting up a process to evaluate outlier funding requests, as well as a way to reform calculating rural and urban telecommunication rates in an effort to improve transparency and fairness.
Further, the agency is looking for feedback on ensuring funding for rural and tribal healthcare providers and a way to maintain participation in the rural-urban provider consortium.
The agency will address the proposed changes at a public meeting on Dec. 14.