Friday, November 3, 2023
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The Biden-Harris Administration is taking actions to improve the health of rural communities and help rural health care providers stay open. These actions:
- Build on the Affordable Care Act and Inflation Reduction Act to increase access to affordable health coverage and care for those living in rural communities
- Keep more rural hospitals open in the long run to provide critical services in their communities
- Bolster the rural health workforce, including for primary care and behavioral health providers
- Support access to needed care such as behavioral health and through telehealth services.
The Biden-Harris Administration will support rural communities having access to reliable care, through approaches that expand access to outpatient behavioral health and telehealth services.
- Expanding access to services provided via telehealth. During the first year of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), Medicare telehealth visits increased 63-fold, especially benefiting patients in rural communities. CMS is extending many of the Medicare telehealth flexibilities provided during the COVID-19 PHE through December 31, 2024, based on requirements in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023. CMS also created new requirements for Medicare Advantage organizations to develop and maintain procedures to offer digital health education to enrollees to improve access to medically-necessary covered telehealth benefits. Furthermore, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) requires CMS to provide technical assistance and issue guidance to states on how to improve access to services delivered via telehealth to beneficiaries enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This will help people in rural communities by granting access to services without having to travel long distances to see a provider in person.
- Improving access to high-speed internet. Internet access is important to accessing telehealth and the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to connecting everyone in the country to affordable, high-speed internet. Rural communities, including tribal communities, represent 93% of all locations unserved by affordable, high-speed internet across the country. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $2 billion in funding, through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, to fill this infrastructure gap and aid adoption efforts to Tribes. This funding is in addition to $2 billion for ReConnect funding, a program for high-speed infrastructure projects on rural and tribal land. To further support access, IHS is partnering with digital navigators to come to local rural health care facilities to sign up tribal members for the Affordable Connectivity Program which provides a discount for internet bills.
There is still one more chance for local communities or broadband service providers to fix the maps that will be used to allocate Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program grant funding. Under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) rules for the BEAD grant process, every State Broadband Office (SBO) must conduct one more challenge process to the broadband maps. This must be done sometime after an SBO has submitted its planned grant rules to the NTIA and before any BEAD grant can be awarded. Every state will have its own timeline, but it’s likely that mapping challenges will be done in the first quarter of 2024. It’s likely that there will be a short time window for filing challenges, so anybody interested in doing so should be prepared early and should keep a close eye on the State Broadband Office website.
Portland Community College (PCC) has recently welcomed 14 digital navigators to facilitate greater technological accessibility for its students. A digital navigator serves as a specialized guide focused on helping individuals bridge their digital skills gaps and achieve greater confidence in the use of technology. Situated within the PCC libraries and tutoring centers, these professionals are tasked with overseeing a comprehensive digital inclusion agenda. Their scope of services ranges from facilitating home internet connectivity and identifying affordable computing devices, to enhancing students’ overall digital literacy. This program represents a committed step towards ensuring that every student and community member has equitable access to technology and the skills needed to use it effectively. This is part of a larger, national effort to ensure equity in addressing the technology needs of underserved populations.
Altice USA reported results for the third quarter ended September 30, 2023. Broadband net losses were -31k in Q3 2023, compared to -43k in Q3 2022, representing a 13k improvement in broadband net add performance trends. Fiber (FTTH) customer net additions were +45k in Q3 2023, the company's best quarter for fiber net adds. Fiber broadband net adds were driven by both higher fiber gross additions and increased migrations of existing customers. Total fiber broadband customers reached 295k as of the end of Q3 2023. Optimum Mobile saw the third straight quarter of growth, adding +24k mobile net additions in Q3 2023 (+30k net additions excluding customers receiving free service), reaching 6.3% penetration of the company's total broadband customer base, up from 5.1% penetration in Q3-22.
Nov 2-3––Michigan Broadband Summit (Merit Network)
Nov 3––Workshop on the 2023 Draft Merger Guidelines (FTC)
Nov 5-7––Telecom Executive Policy Summit (NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association)
Nov 14––The Connect20 Summit (Network:On)
Nov 14––Regulating digital industries (Brookings)
Nov 15––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)
Nov 15––Code to Conduct in AI: Open Source, Privacy, and More (Mozilla)
Nov 17––Maternal Health Roundtable (FCC)
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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