The Federal Communications Commission has approved a program to invest up to $400 million annually to expand broadband connectivity for telemedicine and other medical programs in rural communities.

The FCC has prepared a notice of proposed rulemaking establishing the program, to be published in the Federal Register during the next month. The proposed rule would make changes to the federal Universal Service Fund's health care support program consistent with recommendations in the National Broadband Plan, which the FCC issued in March 2010. The FCC intends to partner with public and not-for-profit provider organizations to invest in new regional and statewide broadband networks to connect clinics, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, renal dialysis centers, off-site administrative offices and data centers.

Under the proposal, the annual $400 million from the Universal Service Fund would pay for 85 percent of infrastructure costs to develop broadband connectivity and 50 percent of recurring monthly costs for access to broadband services.

The National Broadband Plan estimates that 29 percent of federally funded rural health care clinics lack access to even mass-market broadband. "This new program would be focused on closing the connectivity gap that exists throughout the country," according to the proposed rule.

To access the forthcoming proposed rule, click here.

--Joseph Goedert

 

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