The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund (USF or Fund) has been one of the nation’s most important tools for connecting our nation, including rural communities, low-income families, schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities. However, the funding mechanism that supports the Fund is under significant duress. The “contribution base” – the revenues used to calculate USF contributions – has declined 63% in the last two decades, from $79.9 billion in 2001 to $29.6 billion in 2021.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption).
Policymakers should help enable community anchor institutions to connect to their users wherever they are. Policymakers should recognize that the mission of community anchor institutions is to improve lives. Broadband is a key element in fulfilling that mission. Baltimore’s public school system has created a classroom in a community center to offer training in internet access. Librarians note that the provision of skills training is a natural fit with the historic missions of their institutions—offering a trusted space in which people of all ages can learn in the ways that best suit them.
Community anchor institutions should be at the center of any comprehensive national strategy to promote the availability and use of High-Performance Broadband. Community anchor institutions use broadband to provide essential services to their community, such as education, information access, and telehealth services. But in the 21st century, community anchors’ missions are moving beyond their walls. Libraries no longer deliver knowledge that is housed only within their buildings or the covers of hardbound books.
Reps Greg Pence (R-IN) and Angie Craig (D-MN) introduced the Rural Telehealth Access Task Force Act (H.R.5506) to expand rural communities’ access to telehealth capabilities. The proposed legislation seeks to establish a Rural Telehealth Access Task Force between the Federal Communications Commission, United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Service, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Telehealth can't succeed without expanding access to affordable broadband internet, witnesses told the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct 7. But extending the regulatory flexibilities around this access granted under the public health emergency, which are slated to expire when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, is also critical, they said, stressing that the benefits of telemedicine can't be understated.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the skyrocketing adoption of information technologies, especially in the health care system. The digital transformation of the health care industry is not merely restricted to increased use of telemedicine and telehealth, but also the creation of new care-delivery systems unexpectedly driven by agents external to the health care system, including new medical technology startups and retail companies.
COVID-19 pandemic fatigue has many people seeking a return to normalcy. But healthcare needs a new normal—one that achieves better health outcomes for more people. One avenue to better health results is expanding use of tools like telehealth and, more broadly, digital health, provided that their adoption focuses on improving health outcomes rather than simply enabling more appointments.
The Federal Communications Commission approved an additional 72 applications for funding commitments totaling $41,113,186 for Round 2 of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program. This is the FCC’s second funding announcement of approved applications following the nearly $42 million awarded on August 26 to healthcare providers in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.
The Federal Communications Commission approved an initial set of 62 applications for funding commitments totaling $41.98 million for Round 2 of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program.