President Trump has signed an executive order directing federal agencies to “use all viable tools” to accelerate the deployment and adoption of high-speed broadband connectivity in rural parts of the country, a directive that’s expected to offer a boost to healthcare facilities.
“Americans need access to reliable, affordable broadband internet service to succeed in today's information-driven global economy,” states the executive order published today in the Federal Register. “Currently, too many American citizens and businesses still lack access to this basic tool of modern economic connectivity.”
This lack of access to high-speed Internet services in rural America hinders the ability of communities to “extend the reach of affordable, high-quality healthcare,” according to the order. By increasing rural provider access to modern broadband internet service, the Trump administration hopes to overcome some of the hurdles to healthcare delivery in these isolated and underserved communities by enabling clinicians to leverage broadband-enabled health technologies.
The executive order directs federal agencies to “enable sustainable rural broadband infrastructure projects” by reducing barriers to capital investment, removing obstacles to broadband services, as well as streamlining and expediting the processing and review of requests to locate broadband facilities on federal property.
The order comes as the Federal Communications Commission last week issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on the agency’s proposal to increase the $400 million annual cap for the Rural Health Care Program, which provides funding for telecommunications and broadband services to rural communities to support telemedicine networks.
“The current cap on the RHC Program has remained at $400 million since its inception in 1997,” notes the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking. “RHC Program demand, however, exceeded the cap in FY 2016 and is expected to exceed the cap in FY 2017 and in future years. The proration that comes with capped funding may be especially hard on small, rural healthcare providers with limited budgets, and so the Commission examines whether a cap of $400 million is an appropriate level of funding for the RHC Program going forward.”
In addition to the annual cap, the FCC is seeking comment on whether to prioritize requests from healthcare providers based on the remoteness of the area they serve.
“Given the directive from Congress to support eligible rural healthcare providers, should the Commission consider using gradations of rurality to prioritize funding requests, ranking areas as extremely rural, rural, less rural and urban, and prioritizing Program support first to the most rural areas?” asks the notice of proposed rulemaking.
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