FCC to Expand Universal Service Rural Health Care Fund

Broadband's Impact, FCC, Health, National Broadband Plan July 15th, 2010

, Deputy Editor, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON July 15, 2010-  Rural America lags the rest of the country in both access to quality healthcare and high speed broadband but today’s action by the Federal Communications Commission seeks to change that. In a unanimous vote the commission supported expanding the Universal Service Rural Health Care Fund.

The new expansion will increase the number of eligible facilities from 9,800 to 12,000 nationwide. This new expansion will be possible by expanding the type of eligible facilities to include clinics which provide traditional hospital services and medical support offices which are not located in the same structure as the medical facilities they support.

The new program will include funding for both infrastructure and service. The infrastructure program will provide 80% of costs while the service program will provide 50% of recurring costs. By limiting funding the commission is trying to encourage public private partnerships which they hope will ensure wise investment.

The total allocation for the program will remain at $400 million annually so as not to increase the overall size of the Universal Service Fund.

Chairman Julius Genachowski said of this expansion that it is vital to improving the healthcare of rural Americans that they have high speed access. He cited a number of instances where telemedicine was able to save the lives of individuals who did not have direct access to specialists. He also cited data which shows that 30% of federally funded health clinics do not have access to high speed internet access and only 8% of Indian health clinics have access.

Expanding broadband for health care was a key component of the National Broadband Plan. The plan claimed that one of the major reasons why facilities do not take advantage of the available funding is due to the fact that the amount provided by the FCC was too low; this expansion in the level of funding seeks to change that.

The following charts are from the plan.

Health Care Locations Without Mass-Market Broadband Availability

2009 Rural Health Care Program Spending

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