Consistent with its National Broadband Plan announced earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released details of a new healthcare connectivity program that it says will expand investment in broadband Internet access for medically underserved communities across the country.
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued in July 2010, the Commission has proposed the establishment of a new program that would invest up to $400 million annual to bring broadband access to approximately 2000 rural hospitals and clinics. The program, which would be funded by fees collected under the Universal Service Fund, is envisioned to be a healthcare counterpart to the Commission’s E-Rate program for schools.
The program includes a number of specific proposals, including the formation of partnerships with public and non-profit healthcare providers to invest in regional and statewide broadband networks where they are either unavailable or insufficient, and contributing up to half the monthly recurring network costs incurred by hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers;
The FCC says that nearly 30% of federally-funded rural healthcare clinics can’t afford secure and reliable broadband Internet services, and that only 8% of Indian Health Service providers have broadband access.