The FCC on Friday approved a proposed rule that would revise to how the agency sets rates for its Rural Health Care Program.
The Rural Health Care Program, which was started in 1997, provides funding to rural healthcare providers to defray the cost of purchasing broadband and telecommunications services, in part by subsidizing the difference between rates for telecom services in rural areas and rates charged for similar services in nearby urban areas.
The proposed rule seeks comment on revised methods for determining rates for the Rural Health Care Program's Telecom Program, following issues with a process adopted in 2019.
The FCC in 2019 directed the Universal Service Administrative Co., an independent not-for-profit designated by the FCC to administer telecom funding, to develop a database of median urban and rural rates for various telecom services by state. The FCC waived using those rates for funding years 2021 and 2022 after identifying inconsistencies in the database.
Those "anomalies" included instances in which the median rates were lower in areas that were more rural, compared to less rural areas in the same state, as well as instances in which the median rates for higher bandwidth services were lower than for lower bandwidth services in similar areas, according to a draft of the proposed rule.
The proposed rule seeks comment on refined definitions for categorizing rurality and comparable telecom services, in an effort to improve the quality of program data.
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