During today’s FCC meeting, which was conducted by teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Commissioner Mike O’Rielly requested that the actions related to two telehealth programs that are separately funded and authorized be divided into separate orders, because he said he could vote on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program more quickly.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who yesterday circulated among his fellow Commissioners the single order covering both the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funded and authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Connected Care Pilot Program to be funded by the Universal Service Fund established under authority granted by the 1996 Telecommunications Act (TR Daily, March 30), said that “we’ll certainly take that [suggestion] back.”
Later, during a press conference held via video conferencing, Mr. O’Rielly said that “all the pieces” for the COVID-19 program “are pretty much in the statute,” while “there are pieces that aren’t as clear” with regard to agency authority in the Connected Care pilot.
During the FCC’s meeting, Commissioner Brendan Carr urged his colleagues to vote on the combined order “as soon as possible.” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel committed that she would “get to” the item by the end of the day, and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said he had already voted to approve the combined telehealth order but that he would be interested in the Chairman’s response to Commissioner O’Rielly’s request to bifurcate the items.
The two programs will differ in a number of ways, largely due to the urgency of providing telehealth support to health care providers under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and the flexibility of the CARES Act provisions authorizing the program, compared to the restrictions on telemedicine support under the USF RHC provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, according to a senior FCC official who briefed reporters on background during a conference call yesterday.
Support under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program will be awarded on a rolling basis by the Wireline Competition Bureau, with no matching funds required—that is, support could cover 100% of the cost of a project. Telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices could all be supported under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews FCC Covid19
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