Federal Agencies Make Billions Available to Support Telehealth and Close the Homework Gap
Federal agencies took several actions last week to spur broadband deployment, helping to alleviate what the pandemic has already highlighted – Americans need greater access to reliable, high-speed Internet services to continue to engage in the virtual activities, such as telehealth and distancing learning, that have now become a normal part of our daily lives.
First, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted an Order providing additional guidance on its Connected Care Pilot Program (“Pilot Program”). As we previously reported, the Pilot Program will make available $100 million in funding over three years to help defray eligible health care providers’ costs of providing connected care services (e.g., remote patient monitoring, patient health education, “store-and-forward” services, and video consultations and visits). Since the FCC opened its application portal in November 2020, it has received more than 200 applications for funding from health care providers, of which 50 applications requesting approximately $57.8 million in funding have been selected. These projects will serve patients in 30 states plus Washington, D.C. The FCC’s Order provides guidance for selected participants on the eligible services they may offer, the competitive bidding process they must use to select the most cost-effective option for eligible services and equipment, and reimbursement and reporting requirements.
Second, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that, beginning on June 29, 2021, schools and libraries may begin to file applications for funding under the FCC’s newly established $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund to purchase laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons. The application window will close on August 13, 2021, and funds may be used to purchase eligible equipment and services for the 2021-22 school year. The FCC will host a virtual webinar on June 25, 2021 to provide more information on the fund, including applicant eligibility, supported equipment and services, reasonable support amounts, and the application and invoicing processes.
Finally, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) released final rules for its Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, which will provide $268 million in grants to eligible historically Black Colleges or Universities, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and minority-serving institutions. Funding may be used by eligible entities to purchase broadband service or equipment, hire IT personnel to facilitate educational instruction (including remote learning), and lend or provide equipment to eligible students or patrons. Requirements for grant applications and other information about the program will be included in a Notice of Funding Opportunity that will be subsequently published by NTIA. NTIA will also conduct a series of webinars to further inform the public about the program, the next of which will be held on June 23 and 24, 2021.