On July 15th, the FCC introduced their new healthcare connectivity program to expand investment in broadband for medically underserved communities across the country. The program would provide patients in rural areas access to state-of-the-art diagnostic tools typically available only in the largest and most sophisticated medical centers. In fact, nearly 30 percent of the federally funded rural healthcare clinics can’t afford secure and reliable broadband services.
The FCC program is going to invest up to $400 million annually to enable doctors, nurses, hospitals, and clinics to use communications technology to deliver world-class healthcare to patients no matter where they live.
Specifically, the FCC plan would:
• Partner with public and nonprofit healthcare providers to invest millions in new regional and statewide broadband networks in parts of the country where it is unavailable or insufficient
• Make broadband connectivity more affordable by sharing half of the monthly recurring network costs with hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers
• Deliver connectivity where it is needed most today to include skilled nursing facilities and renal dialysis centers, along with off-site administrative offices and data centers that perform support functions critical to healthcare networks.
According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), the FCC’s previous Pilot Program disbursed less than 10 percent of the promised funds and very few projects have received final approval. Also, guidance provided to applicants has been arbitrary, conflicting, and changing. Although the ATA applauds the FCC for taking a step to resurrect the failed FCC pilot program, the new FCC changes to their previous program do not appear to address core issues.
ATA urges the FCC to:
• Streamline the process for project approval and refrain from additional last minute requirements in order to accelerate the full funding of all eligible projects
• Reduce the amount of red tape for approved applicants to receive their funding
• Maintain a clear focus on healthcare. Eliminate the proviso allowing participants to sell excess broadband capacity to non-providers
• Remove the cash only requirement for applicant matching funds. There is no legislative requirement for a cash match
• Quickly reevaluate the costs per site for each approved project to ensure the efficient use of federal funding
Jonathan D. Linkous, CEO of ATA, said, “The ATA pledges to do all we can to work with the Commission to ensure that this exciting new opportunity is fully implemented.”
Go to www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/dbo715/FCC-10-125A1.pdf for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. There is a 30 day comment period.