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.

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