The FCC Wednesday changed some of the rules for its Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate programs to make it easier for broadband providers to support telehealth and remote learning efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. The Wireline Competition Bureau waived the gift rules until September 30. This will enable service providers to offer, and RHC and E-Rate program participants to solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the outbreak.
Commission rules prohibit entities eligible for the RHC and E-Rate programs from soliciting or accepting anything of value from a service provider participating in or one that wants to take part in those programs. The waiver will allow health care providers, schools, and libraries to accept improved capacity, WiFi hotspots, networking gear, or other equipment or services to support doctors and patients, teachers and students, and librarians and patrons during the coronavirus outbreak. For example, some providers have expressed interest in providing free network upgrades for hospitals that need more robust connections to treat patients via telemedicine and free connected devices and hotspots for students taking classes at home, according to the agency.
“The increase in COVID-19 patients is presenting unique challenges to America’s hospitals and health care providers,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Telemedicine will play an increasingly critical part in treating patients and helping health care providers maximize their impact on their communities. Similarly, as the number of school closures continues to grow, schools are increasingly turning to remote learning for students who will be home for an extended period of time.”
“By waiving certain FCC rules today, we are giving service providers the chance to step up and give health care providers more tools to fight the ongoing pandemic and serve patients more effectively, like increased capacity, more equipment, additional services, and other tools that will help them deliver the best possible patient care,” Pai continued. “And we strongly encourage service providers and equipment makers to partner with schools and libraries to provide mobile hotspots and other broadband-enabled devices to students to help bridge the digital divide during the coronavirus pandemic.”
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