FCC chairman highlights focus on telehealth, online learning during pandemic
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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday said his agency has been working closely with Congress during the pandemic, particularly to improve telehealth and online learning as more Americans stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Pai, speaking at The Hill’s virtual technology event, told The Hill’s Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden, Harris's first day as running mates The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Progress slow on coronavirus bill The Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks MORE that the pandemic accelerated efforts to pursue remote learning initiatives and required funding “more quickly and in a more flexible way.”

“We wanted to make sure we worked with Congress proactively, and we’ve done that since early March,” Pai said. “I hope that we are able to continue to work with Congress and those members of Congress who are interested in remote learning solutions. Obviously, with the school year coming up, and many schools going virtual, this is a more important issue than ever.”

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The Trump appointee also emphasized the importance of telehealth during the pandemic, saying it has had its “moment to shine.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received $200 million from Congress in March under the CARES Act to implement the COVID-19 telehealth program, which helps health care providers connect to their patients from their homes or mobile locations.

Pai said the FCC has approved 539 funding applications that have allowed health care providers in urban and rural settings to bolster their telehealth services.

He said he would welcome additional funding from Congress to expand the program, noting that many rural areas still struggle to access online services.

“Our top issue has been closing the digital divide over the last three and a half years,” Pai said at the event sponsored by Facebook, Nokia and Qualcomm. “[The FCC] is more keenly aware during the pandemic, of course, that broadband is more important than ever, for telework, telehealth, distance learning and the rest.”

To that end, Pai said, the FCC will be initiating the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund on Oct. 29. The $20 billion program will target homes and businesses that do not have access to sufficient broadband.