Expand Rural Health Broadband Program, Bipartisan Group Urges Federal Communications Commission

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A bipartisan group of Senators, including MO Senator Claire McCaskill, is urging the Federal Communications Commission to expand support for a program aimed at reducing broadband costs in order to improve the quality of healthcare available to patients in rural areas. The Senators highlighted the need to strengthen the Rural Health Care Program to address the shortage of broadband connectivity for rural health care providers. The program has been improving the quality of healthcare available in rural America since 1997, but has never seen a funding increase despite increased demand. “In 2016, for the first time ever, the demand for funding exceeded the cap and funding to recipients was reduced by 7.5 percent,” the bipartisan group of Senators wrote in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. “Further, it was recently announced that applicants will suffer a devastating cutback in funding of 16 to 26 percent in funding year 2017 because of continued growth in demand. Unless the spending cap is raised appropriately to account for current needs and future growth, health care providers in rural areas will encounter severe rate increases for their broadband services, making it even harder for rural health care practitioners to engage in life-saving telemedicine.” Receiving $5.5 million in 2016, Missouri ranks 12th among the states in total amount of Rural Health Care Program funding. The FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force has identified nine Missouri counties as “critical need” counties that should be prioritized for public and private broadband investment in order to improve public health.