Sunday, December 11, 2011

FCC's Future Health Strategies

Julius Genachowski FCC Chairman speaking at the 2011 mHealth Summit Keynote Luncheon stressed the need for productive partnerships and continued innovation in connected health. Just six weeks ago, the FCC acted to modernize the Universal Service Fund, the federal program used to support communications networks in rural areas.

As reported, the multi-billion dollar program was transformed to the new “Connect America Fund” to support universal broadband. The result is that over the next six years, seven million more rural Americans will be connected to broadband.

An important issue involves effectively and efficiently managing spectrum. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan set a goal to unleash 500 megahertz of spectrum for mobile broadband by the year 2020. To help reach that goal, the FCC has proposed voluntary incentive auctions.

Under this plan, spectrum licensees like broadcasters would voluntarily supply spectrum into an auction. The broadcasters would get a share of the proceeds from the auction and mobile providers would get large blocks of beachfront spectrum to use to deploy mobile broadband.

As Genachowski noted, unlicensed spectrum is important for devices that are surgically implanted in the body to treat disorders such as pancreatitis and enables mobile devices to function more efficiently. In addition, FCC has been looking for ways to harness the benefits of unlicensed spectrum including TV “white spaces”, which could enable new technologies like Super Wi-Fi to cover larger areas than traditional Wi-Fi.

Another issue involves helping mobile app or device developers find new ways to use spectrum either through new technologies like sensing and dynamic spectrum access or by allowing the expanded use of spectrum on a secondary basis.

Last week, the FCC adopted rules to provide access to spectrum for medical micropower networks that promise to dramatically help individuals who suffer from spinal cord injuries, TBI, strokes, and various neuromusculoskeletal disorders.

The FCC recognizes that certain types of medical devices need access to specific parts of the spectrum under provisions that are specifically tailored for them. For example, the FCC has provided spectrum for wireless medical telemetry devices that are used to monitor patients in critical care units. Spectrum is also provided for implanted medical devices where radio is used to reprogram cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators and for medical communications services.

The Chairman reports that the FCC plans to adopt rules to provide access to spectrum for medical body area networks in the 2360 to 2400 MHz band. These networks can be used to wirelessly interconnect a network of extremely low-powered sensors on the body so that patients will no longer be hooked up to a set of wires that anchor them to monitoring equipment.

The FCC is moving ahead on several issues. The plans are to improve and expand the experimental licensing program, propose easing testing restrictions on universities and research organizations, and develop a new program to speed development of new health-related devices.