The Federal Communications Commission said it wants to invest in broadband infrastructure to power some 2,000 rural hospitals and clinics in the United States, part of the agency's plan to pump $400 million per year into health care IT.
The effort, introduced in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking July 15, is part of the FCC's health care connectivity bid to invest more money in broadband for "medically underserved" communities across the country.
This includes clinics in small town Appalachia, in the great Northwest plains, in the vast deserts of the Southwest, among other regions, FCC Chairman Julia Genachowski said in a statement.
The FCC said almost 30 percent of rural clinics and hospitals can't afford broadband connectivity to digitally manage medical records, or transmit an X-ray or MRI.
The money would go toward broadband fiber and other infrastructure, which would enable rural medical centers to run the health care diagnostic applications used today in big city hospitals.
Specifically, the move calls for the FCC to partner with public and nonprofit health care providers to build new regional and statewide broadband networks in parts of the country where it is unavailable or insufficient.
The FCC would alleviate broadband connectivity costs by sharing half of the monthly recurring network costs with hospitals, clinics and other health care providers.
The FCC also argued the money would not only bolster medical care, but spur private investment in networks and health-related applications. The work needed to install the fiber and implement health care IT platforms would also fuel the creation of new jobs.
This move would not increase the size of the FCC's Universal Service Fund and is consistent with the recommendations in the FCC's National Broadband Plan to serve rural communities broadband.
"This program is a critical step in fulfilling the vision of the National Broadband Plan," Genachowski said.
"It establishes a fiscally prudent program to invest in infrastructure for health care connectivity, without increasing costs to consumers, and makes an expanded range of broadband services more affordable. It would stimulate additional private investment and innovation in both broadband and health IT."
He also said the FCC will collaborate with the Food and Drug Administration to promote investment and innovation in wireless health technology.