New FCC Fund to Boost Broadband Connections for Rural Healthcare Providers

New FCC Fund to Boost Broadband Connections for Rural Healthcare Providers

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has earmarked up to $400 million for the new Healthcare Connect Fund to help expand rural health care providers' access to high-bandwidth connections.

The existing Rural Health Care program, established in 1996, hasn't done enough to provide healthcare facilities with remote access over high-speed networks, the agency says. It points to a report issued last summer highlighting successes from its Rural Health Care Pilot Program, launched in 2006, to better understand how to understand how to support high-speed networks.

Those include a South Carolina consortium that saved $18 million in Medicaid costs by using telepyschiatry, and a group of health care providers in the Midwest that saved $1.2 million in patient electronic intensive care unit services.

The FCC says the new Healthcare Connect Fund will help expand access to high-bandwidth connections by:

  • Removing artificial limitations on technology and provider type that hampered legacy universal service health care support.
  • Encouraging consortia between smaller rural health care providers and urban medical centers to enable remote hospitals and clinics to draw on the medical, technical and administrative resources of larger providers.
  • Increasing fiscal responsibility by requiring participants to contribute 35 percent of the costs, while offering lower rates through group buying.
  • It also will launch a new competitive pilot program to expand broadband networks to skilled nursing facilities. Up to $50 million over three years will be available for those pilots.