New Bill Expands FCC Rural Healthcare Program to Urban

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to dramatically increase telehealth funding dispensed by the FCC and expand it to meet the demands of COVID-19.  

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-Me.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Friday (May 22) introduced the ‘Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act.’ 

Related: FCC Hands Out More Telehealth Funding 

The bill expands the FCC's Rural Health Care Program to include urban health care providers as well and invests and additional $2 billion over the next nine months. 

A similar bill has been introduced in the House. 

The CARES Act included $200 million for a COVID-19 targeted program for urban and rural health care. So far the FCC has approved over $50 million in funds in only a few weeks from that $200 million pot.  

Related: Pai Provides House with COVID-19 Action Update

Johnathan Spalter, president of USTelecom, says that expanding the program to urban healthcare is the right way to go. " Investing in broadband powered telehealth can transform and expand access to vital health care services. Like the companion legislation introduced by Reps. Eshoo and Young in the House, this plan recognizes that all of our country’s hospital systems and health care providers – no matters their zip code – should have cutting edge broadband and digital technology to diagnose and treat patients," he said.

There is broadband money in the HEROES Act COVID-19 aid bill passed by the House, but it looks like there will need to be standalone bills to boost funding for telehealth or remote learning since Republicans in the Senate have signaled they have no intention of passing that bill.  

“Broadband has never been more important than during this pandemic, but particularly for healthcare providers, who rely on high-speed connectivity to deliver the best possible care to patients," said Lisa Youngers, president of the Fiber Broadband Association. "The Fiber Broadband Association and its members strongly support the Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act and appreciate this bipartisan effort to keep healthcare facilities and patients connected in order to save lives. We remain committed to bridging the digital divide and connecting all Americans, both rural and urban, with high-speed broadband.”

John Eggerton

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.