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FCC's Carr expects healthcare system will help foot the bill on telehealth costs

Telehealth has become of utmost importance over the past year and a half as the pandemic forced people into virtual work environments, and America's communications agency continues to play a role in making such services as accessible as possible.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Oct. 26 will vote to announce a third round of selections for the commission's Connected Care Pilot Program. The program, spearheaded by the agency in April 2020, provides up to $100 million from the Universal Service Fund over a three-year period to applicants to support connected care services.

The FCC has been involved for about a decade in the deployment and support of telehealth services, starting with subsidies for telco infrastructure at brick-and-mortar facilities — better known as hub and spoke distribution — but the landscape evolved as connected devices became more regularized in society. Patients now have the ability to access care anywhere through the use of smartphones and tablets, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an interview.

"It's the healthcare equivalent of shifting from Blockbuster Video to Netflix," Carr said. "You don't have to go to a physical facility anymore for dozens of ranges of conditions; you can instead get constant remote patient monitoring and connected care right from your home." He cited numerous examples, such as a diabetic patient in rural Mississippi who was able to receive health feedback from her blood glucose meter on a Bluetooth-enabled iPad instead of visiting a doctor at a facility.

He later added that COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented spike in the types of connected care offerings available to people seeking care, in part from CARES Act funding, which passed in March 2020.

The agency in its first two rounds of funding for the Connected Care Pilot Program have awarded millions of dollars to facilities offering specialized care and mental health resources, as well as larger healthcare systems and universities such as the Duke University Health System and Temple University Hospital, according to CCPP selection lists on the FCC's website. Carr said that the University of Michigan doctors informed him that telehealth visits increased 75-fold during the pandemic.

The positive stories mean that more data on the subject matter must be made available to further expand virtual care to rural and other vulnerable populations, said Nicol Turner Lee, a senior fellow for governance at the Brookings Institution in an interview.

Another long-term question to consider is the outlook on telehealth programs post-pandemic, she added. Many questions remain in the air about the existence of other pandemic-centered FCC projects like the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program after health conditions eventually improve, she said.

"It would be nice for Acting Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel to tether this to the other conversations going on around the expiration of other services," Turner Lee said of the FCC's leader.

Carr hopes that, in the long run, the healthcare industry can help pay for the cost of connected health technologies. "We keep people out of the emergency room with this technology, which is obviously the most expensive part of the healthcare system," he said, emphasizing that the healthcare sector strongly benefits from programs like CCPP because of the significant reduction in the cost of care and hospitalizations.

In the FCC's October meeting, the commission will also consider an undisclosed national security item and an order updating the national television table of allotments. The agency will also conduct a communications recovery and resiliency virtual hearing to better learn how to handle natural disasters.


Oct. 26 The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a 10 a.m. ET hearing entitled "Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube" to explore improvements to protecting young people's health online, among other discussions.
Oct. 26 The Federal Communications Commission will convene its October open commission meeting at 10:30 a.m. ET.
Oct. 28 The Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing at 10:15 a.m. ET titled "Social Media Platforms and the Amplification of Domestic Extremism & Other Harmful Content."
Industry, legal and think tank events
Oct. 25 The FCBA will host a virtual event entitled "CLE: ISP Responsibilities Under Copyright and the DMCA" at 12 p.m. to discuss ISPs and copyright law, as well as copyright repeat infringers.
Oct. 26-28 Mobile World Congress, one of North America's biggest connectivity events, will take place in Los Angeles.
Oct. 27 DASPedia will convene its 5G Congress PropTech conference at 8 a.m. in Los Angeles to discuss wireless technology's impact on the real estate sector in the post-COVID era.
Oct. 27 AT&T will convene its two-day business summit at 1 p.m. to discuss major tech and telecom topics such as ransomware and new-gen wireless technologies.
Oct. 28 USTelecom will host its 2021 Broadband Investment Forum.
Oct. 28 ITIF will host a webinar titled "How China’s Subsidies Threaten Advanced-Technology Industries" at 12 p.m. to explore China's growth strategy in telecommunications, semiconductors and other sectors.
Oct. 28 Facebook will host its annual Connect conference beginning at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET), where it is rumored to be rebranding to align with its metaverse project.

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