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FCC Proposal to Expand Rural Broadband Too Limiting

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 18, 2010

"We had to hire a full time program manager to manage this full time, But (the grant) wouldn't pay for that."

There were also discouraging restrictions on what types of providers  qualified for the money. Skilled nursing facilities or renal dialysis centers did not, and if the provider's administrative offices were in a different building, those offices weren't eligible. The money also couldn't assist a clinic's data centers, its routers, or servers, he said.

With the new rulemaking, the FCC is trying to be more lenient.  With future projects, the proposal would allow skilled nursing facilities, dialysis centers,  and administrative offices to benefit from the funding. Additionally, monthly recurring costs for broadband services, funded at 25% for the pilot projects, would be increased to 50%.

Eligibility would be expanded from roughly 9,800 entities today to roughly 12,000 rural health care providers, the FCC said in a statement.

But the American Telemedicine Association is unconvinced the FCC proposal will work.

"At this point, with my first read of it, I don't see it as an improvement," said  John Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, which has followed the issue closely. "I haven't seen that it will do anything to accelerate the payments or streamline the process. Those are the two biggest concerns."

He acknowledges that the FCC proposal relaxes some other troublesome provisions, "but it's not going to be any less complex than the current program."

And rather than allowing 85% federal funding to be a ceiling, Linkous says it should be a floor.

He listed six changes the ATA would like the FCC to fix in its current proposal before going forward with more $400 million annual broadband connectivity projects.

  • Streamline the process for project approval and refrain from additional last-minute requirements so as to accelerate the full funding of all eligible projects.
  • Reduce red tape, eliminating required quarterly progress reports until funding is dispensed and the project started.
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