The Federal Communications Commission will award up to $400 million annually under its new Healthcare Connect Fund to accelerate development of broadband networks supporting rural telemedicine and access to health records.

The new fund, paid for out of the federal Universal Service Fund that assesses a fee on telecommunications bills, represents a transition from the FCC’s Rural Healthcare pilot program to a permanent program, with the agency expecting to begin accepting applications in late summer 2013. The pilot program showed that costs of rural broadband networks could be reduced by half through group purchases.

Eligible organizations, according to FCC, include public or not-for-profit hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers, health centers serving migrants, community mental health centers, local health departments, post-secondary educational institutions/teaching hospitals/medical schools, or a consortia of the above. Non-rural health care providers may participate but the majority of participants in a consortia must be rural.

A new pilot program starting in 2014 will test how to support broadband for skilled nursing facilities with up to $50 million available over three years.

More information is available here.

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