FCC OKs $417 million in grants for rural health networks

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to make $417 million available for construction of 69 statewide or regional broadband networks to support rural health care.

The FCC will pay for up to 85 percent of the costs of the design, engineering and construction of the networks in 42 states and three U.S. territories.

“It is my vision to see every health care facility in the nation connected to each other with broadband,” said Commission Chairman Kevin Martin. “This is especially important in rural areas of the nation that may lack the breadth of medical expertise available in urban areas.”

Most of the networks will be used for telehealth programs that allow rural areas to share medical expertise and other resources and access the expertise in big medical centers. Some of the projects include e-health records, and others are for specialized purposes such as emergency care, or care of stroke patients or those with chronic diseases.

Twelve of the projects are in multistate regions, including Appalachia and the Great Plains.

The largest grant will go to the New England Telehealth Consortium, which will link 500 health centers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine with urban hospitals. It will get up to $24.7 million. Other grants are for as little as $194,225, the amount going to the DCH Regional Health System in Alabama.

Besides facilitating health care delivery in rural areas, the networks will facilitate responses to public health emergencies, Martin said.

The networks will connect to the Internet, Internet2 or National LambdaRail.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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