A bipartisan group of 13 senators led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and John Hoeven (R., N.D.) has asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to delay the agency’s vote on a Rural Health Care (RHC) draft report and order, scheduled for Thursday.
The RHC draft report and order in WC docket 17-310, which follows a 2017 NPRM and order aimed at looking into protections against waste, fraud, and abuse in the wake of increased demand for RHC support, would “[r]eform the distribution of RHC Program funding to promote efficiency and reduce incentives that encourage waste, fraud, and abuse,” according to a fact sheet released along with the draft item on July 11.
In a letter to Chairman Pai dates today, the senators said, “While we recognize your efforts to adopt much-needed improvements to the RHC program, the proposal neither provides sufficient guidance to applicants nor addresses several of the program’s key issues, and will ultimately lead to increased confusion and funding delays for rural health care applicants and providers.”
They noted that they had advocated for an increase in RHC when demand for RHC support first exceeded its original $400 million budget adopted in the 1990s. The FCC increased the budget last year to reflect inflation. “While we are pleased with this action, this amount of funding has proven insufficient to address continued growth in the program,” they said.
The draft report and order does not address “many of the key issues that must be resolved for the program to operate smoothly. The proposal, for instance, does not address the need for more funding, set forth the methodology for calculating the rural and urban rates, nor provide adequate maps to determine the rural area boundaries needed to determine pricing. Instead, it delegates the rate-setting to the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), an entity that does not have relevant subject matter experience. Ultimately, the proposal fails to provide sufficient guardrails of transparency to guarantee confidence that the program will be implemented in a consistent manner,” the senators said.
“Given the importance of this program to the nation’s rural and underserved populations and the public interest in a fair and expedient application and review process, we urge you to postpone a decision on the proposed Report and Order so that rural health care practitioners and broadband providers can work with you to address these concerns and allow the program to succeed to its full potential,” the senators said.
Joining Sens. Wyden and Hoeven in the letter were Sens. Tom Udall (D., N.M.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), Kevin Cramer (R., N.D..), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), Angus King (I., Maine), Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.), and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.). —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews Congress FCC UniversalServiceLifeline
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