The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created a new Healthcare Connect Fund (Fund), designed to expand health care provider (HCP) access to broadband technologies and to encourage the creation of broadband health care networks. The Healthcare Connect Program (Program) will match, up to two-for-one, the cost of broadband services or facilities used for health care purposes, requiring HCPs to make a 35% contribution. The Fund will permit HCPs to purchase services or construct their own broadband infrastructure, although the FCC expects the self-construction option to be used in only limited circumstances. Funding will focus on rural areas. Non-rural providers can participate in the program as part of consortia of other HCPs. Finally, the FCC also created a Pilot Program to test whether it is technically feasible and economically reasonable to include skilled nursing facilities in the Program.
Support for Broadband Connectivity:
Focus on Rural HCPs -
The FCC will allow participation in the Fund by both rural and non-rural HCPs, but with limitations to ensure that rural needs are met. First, non-rural HCPs may only apply for support as part of a consortium that includes rural HCPs and may not submit individual applications. Second, non-rural HCPs may receive support only if they participate in consortia that include more than 50% of sites that are rural HCPs (the 50% level must be reached within three years of request for funding). Third, the FCC established a cap on the annual funding available to each of the largest hospitals in the program (those with 400 or more beds)—a non-rural hospital site with 400 or more beds may receive no more than $30,000 per year in support for recurring charges and no more than $70,000 in support for nonrecurring charges every five years. Non-rural HCPs can still participate in a health care broadband network outside of a consortium if they pay their undiscounted portion of network costs.
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