SHLB Calls on the FCC to Resolve Rural Health Care Program Issues January 31, 2019
For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C. (January 31, 2019) - In comments filed yesterday, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition called upon the Federal Communications Commission to resolve several open issues in the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program. SHLB also suggested several important changes to improve the operation of both the Telecom Program and the Healthcare Connect Fund.
“It’s been over six months since the FY2018 application filing window closed, yet a sizable number of RHC applicants still have no idea whether they will be funded,” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition. “The demand for RHC funding has exceeded the funding cap the last two years, yet there’s still no policy or precedent for how funding should be allocated when this occurs. The program has become shrouded in ambiguity and uncertainty, and we fear that the rural healthcare providers most in need will withdraw from the program and consequently be unable to afford the broadband they need to serve the community.”
SHLB asks the FCC to improve the RHC program with the following actions:
Employ the services of former state regulatory officials to help determine the urban and rural rates;
Provide support for 95 percent of the difference between the urban and rural rates (except in Alaska) in order to reduce funding delays and expedite application approvals;
Adopt a deadline for the processing of all RHC applications;
Set a precedent for how to handle RHC applications if the demand for funds exceeds the cap in any given year;
Clarify the definition of a “rural” area to allow the use of Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes to determine rurality;
Increase the discount for rural healthcare providers in the Healthcare Connect Fund;
Improve transparency in the RHC program as a whole;
Address the backlog of consortia applications; and
Increase the RHC cap to $800 million, at least until the FCC conducts a detailed, factual investigation of the actual costs.
SHLB submitted these comments in response to the Wireline Competition Bureau’s public notice seeking comment on how to determine the urban and rural rates in the Telecom Program. The FCC’s current proposal suggests calculating the rural rate that carriers may charge using an average of all “publicly available” rates. SHLB’s comments express concern that this proposal would create an unpredictable process, as rates vary based on technology and location, and are particularly difficult to triangulate in rural areas.
The SHLB Coalition previously filed comments and reply comments in the FCC’s WC Docket No. 17-310 with the following four main recommendations to reform the Universal Service Fund program: 1) Increase the cap to $800 million to meet the current demand; 2) Encourage the formation of consortia in the Healthcare Connect Fund; 3) Establish funding tiers to ensure funds are distributed to the most rural areas; and 4) Improve administrative efficiency, transparency, and protection against waste, fraud, and abuse. Visit http://www.shlb.org/policy/Rural-Health-Care to learn more about SHLB’s advocacy to improve our nation’s telehealth.
The SHLB Coalition is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, DC and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States.