FCC Commissioner Honorable Robert M. McDowell discussed FCC’s successes and issues with rural healthcare. As a keynote speaker at the First Annual Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center Summit held in conjunction with the Virginia Telehealth Network at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, he stressed the fact that even though the FCC’s rural health care program is the smallest Universal Services Fund (USF) program its effects have been impressive.
The program has enabled the healthcare community to improve and expand healthcare to patients in extremely remote parts of our country. As McDowell said, “Initially, the program was defined as a pilot or experiment but the program has provided the FCC with an excellent opportunity to learn what works best and what does not work.”
He reported that the FCC was able to learn a great deal in July of 2010, when the FCC asked for public comments on a number of reform proposals regarding the rural health care initiative. The Commission not only garnered valuable information from the comments received but the FCC learned a tremendous amount from participants in the pilot program.
He said, “We have also learned that one of the most valuable benefits of the program is the ability of healthcare providers to work together to create statewide and regional networks that can spark a virtuous cycle of investment, expansion, and opportunity.”
By providing broadband deployment to remote areas, rural healthcare centers are now well positioned to serve as hubs for new economic growth, job development, educational opportunities, and much more. Such partnerships promote efficiencies in the system.
McDowell told the attendees that he would like to see a comprehensive reform of all the USF spending programs completed at the same time as well as reforming the contribution or the taxing side of the ledger.
He summed up by saying, “As part of the implementation of the FCC National Broadband Plan, the Commission has already reformed some of the other USF programs on a piecemeal basis. The Commission will continue to work towards completing all of its reform efforts, including reform of the rural healthcare program as quickly as possible.