par Astrid Fiano
, DOTmed News Writer | August 19, 2010
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for public comment on its notice of proposed rule-making regarding broadband as a rural health care universal service support mechanism.
The FCC has a package of reforms to expand the use of broadband in order to improve the quality and delivery of health care. The changes could be implemented in funding year 2011. The FCC is proposing three major changes to the rural health care program:
--To create a health infrastructure program that would support up to 85 percent of the construction costs of new or upgraded regional or statewide dedicated broadband networks for health care purposes, to serve public and non-profit health care providers in areas of the country where broadband is unavailable or insufficient;
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--To create a health broadband services program that would provide 50 percent of the monthly recurring costs for access to broadband services for eligible rural health care providers, which the FCC says should make broadband connectivity more affordable for providers operating in rural areas;
--To expand the definition of "eligible health care provider" to include administrative offices, data centers, skilled nursing facilities, and renal dialysis centers that do not share the same building as the clinical offices of a health care provider, but perform critical support functions.
The FCC is also proposing to eliminate the current rule requiring that funding be offset against universal service contributions owed by participating service providers. Instead it would allow service providers participating in the health broadband services program, telecommunications program, and health infrastructure program to receive rural health care funds directly from the Universal Service Administrative Company.
Finally, the FCC also seeks comment on how to prioritize funding requests for rural health care support when demand exceeds the annual $400 million funding cap; and ways to enhance ongoing program evaluation and implementation of performance measures.
Comments to the proposed rules are due September 8, 2010. Comments can be submitted with the identifier WC Docket No. 02-60 through regulations.gov, the FCC's website http://
fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/, or by regular mail to FCC Headquarters at 445 12th St., SW., Room TW-A325, Washington, DC 20554.
The full proposed rules may be accessed here