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Sens. Seek FCC Funds for Rural Healthcare

A bipartisan group of senators has asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to ensure that there is enough money in the FCC's Rural Health Care Program to cover a funding gap.

In a letter to Pai and the other commissioners, Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Margaret Hassan (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) asked him to tap into unspent funds from past years given that the third 2016 window for filing for some of the $400 million annual fund was cancelled because the money had been used up.

They said that too many healthcare providers lack access to affordable broadband of sufficient bandwidth, particularly in rural areas where there are fewer doctors, more chronic illnesses and chemical dependency, and economic challenges.

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"Re-allocating unused RHC funds from prior years could address the short-term funding shortfall without increasing the fees paid by consumers to support the Universal Service Fund," they said. That is because the FCC would not have to collect any new funds, just free up existing left-over funds, they said.

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition sent a letter to the FCC in November warning about the shortfall and seeking the roll-over of unused funds, as is done with the E-rate broadband subsidy for schools and libraries.