Millions of Dollars in Federal Broadband Funds Fail To Reach Rural Health Care Providers


The Federal Communications Commission is coming under fire for not distributing millions of dollars intended for rural health care.

Since 1997, telecommunications companies have been required by law to collect universal access fees from their customers. Those fees are designed to subsidize broadband access for clinics, hospitals, schools and libraries in underserved areas.

FCC is responsible for distributing up to $400 million of that fund each year for rural health care services, such as telemedicine. However, the commission has doled out just a fraction of that money.

In November 2010, the Government Accountability Office released a report critiquing FCC's management of the program. Meanwhile, the American Telemedicine Association last month sent a letter to FCC criticizing the commission for failing to address the GAO report or issue revised rules for its program.

In an iHealthBeat Special Report by Deirdre Kennedy, stakeholders weigh in on the FCC program.

The Special Report includes comments from:

  • Dale Alverson, past president of ATA and medical director of the Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine at the University of New Mexico;
  • Mark Goldstein, director of Physical Infrastructure at GAO;
  • Jonathan Linkous, CEO of ATA; and
  • Carol Mattey, deputy chief of FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau.

Although FCC has not responded directly to GAO or ATA, FCC officials say they are reviewing proposals and holding ongoing talks with various stakeholders and other federal agencies. The commission has not yet set a date to release its final rules (Kennedy, iHealthBeat, 8/10).

The complete transcript of this report is available as a PDF.

Robert Forster
Simple questions asked in the private sector: 1. What are the program objectives/goals? 2. What are the transparent CONTROLS on the program? 3. Who (which person) has accountability for the program? 4. Tell me why they should not be "released to pursue other opportunities" when then avoid being responsive to their employers? We must change the culture of elitism and entitlement of the government employees to one of parity, accountability, and risk taking (action orientation) that exists in the private sector.
Ruth Textor
The pilot program is done. This isn't difficult. Anyone can write Goals and Objectives. If you would like me to help, I would be happy to assist. Thank you. Ruth Textor
Ramon Alustiza
This is sad....we have clients in the rural clinics that are suffering because their Internet connection is so limited. They must have a strong connection and are focred to pay what isolated vendors are charging which is much higher than the rest of pay for less service. Medicare/CMS want the clinics to adopt electronics yet nothing is being done to improve the quality and poricing for their Internet capabilities.

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