On December 12, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) held an Open Commission Meeting wherein it established the Healthcare Connect Fund. News Release, FCC Creates Healthcare Connect Fund to Expand Access to Robust Broadband Healthcare Networks, Improve Care and Lower Costs for Patients Nationwide (Dec. 12, 2012), available at http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2012/db1212/DOC-317912A1.pdf.
Recognizing that broadband is essential to the provision of health care in the twenty-first century, the Commission acknowledged that broadband helps save lives, improves the quality of care that patients receive, and reduces costs, noting that, among other things, broadband helps “facilitate immediate diagnoses and care needed to prevent lasting damage to stroke victims, prevent premature births and deliver psychiatric treatment for patients in rural areas.” Id.
The Healthcare Connect Fund “reform[s] and modernize[s] [the FCC’s] universal service program for healthcare” by providing eligible healthcare providers with support for the cost of broadband services or facilities that are used for health care purposes and by permitting healthcare providers to receive support for constructing and owning broadband infrastructure. Id.
More specifically, the Commission noted that the Healthcare Connect Fund will help expand access to the necessary broadband connections by (1) removing limitations on technology and provider type which previously impeded legacy universal service health care support; (2) encouraging smaller rural health care providers to draw on the resources of larger, urban medical centers; (3) increasing fiscal responsibility (requiring participants to contribute 35% of the costs); (4) supporting services purchased from diverse communications providers; and (5) covering upgrades to higher speed service that are necessary for health care applications. Id.
In addition to the creation of the Healthcare Connect Fund, the Commission also established a Pilot Program which will be used to test the expansion of broadband healthcare networks to skilled nursing facilities. Id. To implement the Pilot Program, the Fund will make up to $50 million available over the span of three years. Id.
A cap of $400 million for the cost of universal service support for broadband health care networks was also set by the Commission. Id.