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FCC Waives Gift Prohibition in E-Rate, Telehealth Programs

In an effort to promote telehealth and distance learning, the FCC has temporarily waived--tellingly until Sept. 30, 2020--the gift rules in its Rural Health Care (RHC and E-Rate schools and libraries) broadband subsidy programs. 

To guard against abuse of the program, FCC rules prohibit entities eligible for the subsidies--schools, libraries, hospitals--from accepting or seeking anything of value from a provider participating in the program. 

With those rules waived, carriers can donate free upgraded gear or WiFi hotspots..  

For example, the FCC said, some carriers have said they would like to give free network upgrades to hospitals needing more capacity for telemedicine and free devices and hot spots to students taking classes at home. The waiver will allow that. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the COVID-19 virus is presenting unique challenges for health care providers and educators and that it wants to give ISPs the chance to "step up" and provide more tools in that effort. 

"[W]e strongly encourage service providers and equipment makers to partner with schools and libraries to provide mobile hotspots and other broadband-enabled devices to students to help bridge the digital divide during the coronavirus pandemic," said Pai. "I expect that these private-sector efforts will complement the Commission’s ongoing work with Congress to appropriate funds for a Remote Learning Initiative and a COVID Connected Care Pilot—programs that would allow us to use federal funds to support in-home equipment for patients and students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.” 

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.