FCC to propose $400 million rural health care broadband fund
The Federal Communications Commission will announce at its open meeting Thursday a plan to create a $400 million program that would bring broadband connections to rural healthcare providers.
The effort, supported by money drawn from a $8 billion annual phone subsidy known as the Universal Service Fund, has been a pilot project at the FCC since 2007. But it has attracted little interest, mainly because of restrictions on who can apply for the funds and what the money can be used for, according to the FCC.
In a proposal to be voted on by the five-member commission, the agency said it would increase the portion of health provider service costs it subsidizes to 50 percent from 25 percent. The agency would also pay for 85 percent of the construction costs for new or upgraded broadband networks to areas that have poor infrastructure for health care information technology.
The FCC would also expand eligible applicants to skilled nursing facilities, acute care facilities, off-site administrative offices and data centers, and renal dialysis centers. That would increase the number of eligible rural health care providers to roughly 12,000 from about 9,800 entities today.
The proposal comes from the FCC’s national broadband plan, which recommends making high-speed Internet service an underlying platform for transferring information between health care providers, patients and hospitals. And fast broadband connections could increase the adoption of new services such as real-time video streaming of medical procedures and patient visits.
July 15, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
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