FCC supports rural broadband deployments to enable telehealth

The Federal Communications Commission is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to ensuring that rural Americans are able to connect to quality healthcare through the deployment of high-speed broadband.

Earlier this month, the FCC unanimously approved a new $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program designed to provide access to telemedicine for more rural patients, specifically low-income Americans.

“The delivery of high-quality care is no longer limited to the confines of connected, brick-and-mortar facilities,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told a Senate committee on Thursday. “With remote patient monitoring and mobile health apps, technology can now deliver care directly to patients.”

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Brendan Carr, commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), speaks during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is testifying for the first time since acknowledging that he incorrectly told lawmakers that the agency was hit by a cyberattack during the height of last year's net neutrality battle. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Carr, who is leading the FCC’s new telehealth initiative, testified that the Connected Care Pilot Program will benefit low-income patients—including those eligible for Medicaid and veterans—and will support a limited number of projects over a two- or three-year period ,“with controls in place to measure and verify the benefits, costs and savings” generated by the technology.

Also See: FCC to launch $100M Connected Care Pilot Program

“Too many Americans lack access to broadband,” noted FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in her testimony. “There are 19 million Americans who do not have access to high-speed service in rural America.”

Rosenworcel told senators that it’s time for the FCC to establish “audacious” goals to fix the problem. “Let’s not settle for the same broadband standard we’ve used for years—let’s decide to raise it to 100 megabits per second,” she said. “Let’s ensure every rural healthcare facility has the speed they need for the newest innovations in telemedicine.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testified that the commission has “boosted telemedicine’s promise” by recently increasing funding in the Rural Health Care Program by $171 million a year—a 43 percent increase—as well as adjusting the cap going forward to account for inflation.

The Rural Health Care Program, which provides funding for telecommunications and broadband services to rural communities to support telemedicine networks, had a previous $400 million cap that was set in 1997 and was never indexed for inflation.

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