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Cantwell: FCC Should Help with Coronavirus-Related Remote Healthcare, Schooling

With the coronavirus spreading, and the need to prevent its further spread, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has called on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to do whatever he can to promote telehealth and remote schooling.

In a letter to Pai Thursday (March 5), Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, asked the chairman to explore temporary measures and "facilitate at-home connectivity for students to keep up in class should remote schoolwork become necessary due to COVID-19 closures.”

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Citing FCC temporary rules adopted during past emergencies, like Hurricane Katrina, she asked Pai to explore whether the FCC can put existing authority and programs to aid in coronavirus response. She pointed out that during Katrina, the FCC adopted temporary rules to help support telemedicine.

She said the FCC could take similar actions that could allow new or temporary healthcare facilities responding to the virus to use FCC resources to get connectivity when and where they needed it.

“I believe that the Federal Communications Commission is uniquely positioned to respond to some of the challenges posed by COVID-19 just as it has in the past with disaster response,” she wrote.

On the health front, she said: “To facilitate remote monitoring of isolated and quarantined patients (especially low-income patients), I urge you to consider what temporary measures the FCC can take to pave the way for connected care between these patients and health care professionals. To this end, the FCC has a pilot proposal outstanding that is designed to help address the cost of connected care for low-income consumers. I urge you to consider how this effort or other temporary policies can be part of a nationwide response to COVID-19.”

On the education front, she said that could include facilitating at-home connectivity should remote schooling be necessary due to virus-related school closings.

She wants a response by March 15. An FCC spokesperson said they had received the letter and were reviewing it. 

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.