Rural Health Care Consortia Annual Reports Waived for Funding Year 2013; Comment Sought on Makeup of Future Reports

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On its own motion, the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) has granted a limited, one-year waiver of the requirement that consortium lead entities in both the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) and the Rural Health Care Pilot Program (Pilot) file an annual report for funding year 2013 (July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014) pursuant to Section 54.647 of the FCC’s rules and the FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund Order.  The reports were to be filed by September 30, 2014.  Given that Pilot and HCF consortia are on different funding schedules for funding year 2013, HCF consortia would have only collected six months of data for this year’s reports.  In addition, funding year 2013 reports would have been inconsistent because the Bureau has not yet specified the precise content and format for the required reports.  Accordingly, the Bureau determined a waiver is in the public interest.

In an accompanying Public Notice, the Bureau seeks comment on the content and format of future consortium annual reports.  It proposes to structure the annual reports in a way that compels consortia to gather data that will enable the Bureau to best assess whether the HCF performance goals are being met.  The three performance goals for the HCF are: (1) to increase access to broadband for health care providers; (2) to foster the development and deployment of broadband health care networks; and (3) to minimize the burden on the federal universal service fund by ensuring the cost-effectiveness of the program.  To measure progress toward each goal, among other things, the Bureau proposes to collect data on: the extent to which program participants subscribe to higher levels of broadband over time; the extent to which eligible health care providers participating in HCF are connected to other health care providers through broadband health care networks; and the cost of administering the program as compared to funds disbursed to program participants.  Comments on the content and format of future consortium annual reports are due 30 days after publication of the Public Notice in the Federal Register.  Reply comments are due 45 days after publication.

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