Technology

Nelson asks FCC to save funding for rural hospitals

The FCC’s heath program allocates money so hospitals can deploy broadband. It allows doctors to transfer medical records between facilities and monitor patients remotely using communications devices. 

The FCC sought comment in a public notice in June on whether it should revisit the rule change, and comments were due this month. The comments are under review.

Nelson said the rule change will cost Nebraska $223,000 in federal funds annually. The impact could be widespread because hospitals share network infrastructure, so “when one hospital loses funding, they all pay the price,” he said.

The solution is to “permanently grandfather in rural healthcare providers” who had qualified for support before the rule change, according to Nelson. His letter supports a petition to the same effect filed by the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

The criticism comes as the FCC makes its biggest effort yet to help rural hospitals gain access to communications technologies.

The agency voted in July to create a permanent, capped $400 million fund to help health providers get high-speed Internet.

Nelson said that in the context of these changes, it is “entirely appropriate” to keep funding the Nebraska hospitals, providing a “relatively small amount of funding…to providers which are already offering” advanced services.

He added that individuals “have come to rely upon these services for receipt and delivery of rural health care.”

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