The Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) Wireline Bureau on September 3, 2020, released a Public Notice providing additional information regarding the upcoming $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program. You will recall that the Commission launched the pilot in April – joining it together in the same order approving the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (FCC 20-44). The Public Notice largely re-states the general outlines of the new pilot program: what is and is not eligible, who is eligible, and the overall purposes of the program. The Public Notice also notes the application process is not likely to begin before November 2020, but suggests interested applicants can and should begin preparing now. Thus, while the Commission awaits final Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval for the actual application form, the just-released Public Notice provides a good overview of what a successful application process will likely need to include.
The purpose of this blog post is not to restate the Public Notice or the Connected Care order, but to highlight some important characteristics of the program to help you assess its potential benefits. First, while the Connected Care pilot program offers an 85% flat-rate subsidy (compared to 65% in the Commission’s Rural Health Care program), the application process will be involved and, post-award there will be significant project administrative burdens and eventually clinical data reporting obligations. In addition, the 85% subsidy is just that: a subsidy which takes the form of disbursements to eligible service providers in exchange for those service providers providing eligible entities with discounted services. The FCC does not disburse funding directly to applicants.
Second, the Connected Care pilot program will have a two-tiered approval process similar to the Rural Health Care pilot program that ran from 2007 to 2012:
- Submit project application to FCC for approval;
- FCC will evaluate and provide selected projects with a funding “award”;
- Selected projects must then apply to the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) for funding and follow the Rural Health Care program procurement process:
- Project conducts a rule-compliant competitive procurement;
- Project applies for funding;
- USAC issues funding commitment based on the scope of the procurement;
- Project invoices USAC to draw down funding against the commitment;
- Multiple-funding commitments will be allowed (up to the award amount);
- Project funds must be expended with three-years.
The scope of what is eligible for the 85% subsidy is somewhat narrow:
- Patient broadband internet access services (g., home or mobile broadband service) used “primarily, but not exclusively” for health care (i.e., no cost allocation required) (see FCC 20-44 at ¶ 58, n.142);
- Health care provider broadband data connections (but not connections between health care providers which are supported through the traditional Rural Health Care program).
- Other connected care “information services” (see FCC 20-44 at ¶ 61);
- Certain network equipment (g., equipment necessary to make a supported broadband service function such as routers; but not end-user devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, or medical equipment).
Lastly, while eligible applicants include either rural or non-rural health care providers, the projects must support patients located in rural areas that are either low income or veterans (see Public Notice at 5-6).