FCC to spend $400M on NHIN broadband expansion

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin plans to spend more than $400 million over three years to build broadband networks that will connect healthcare providers with others in their states or regions and with the emerging National Health Information Network (NHIN).

According to Martin, the expanded networks can be used as platforms to support other IT initiatives, such as EHRs and regional health information organizations. The program is a significant expansion of the federal government’s Universal Service Fund that subsidizes telecommunications services to rural healthcare providers, he said.

The program will enable the creation of broadband telehealth networks in 42 states and three U.S. territories to serve rural and underserved communities, Martin recently reported to the American Health Information Community, a federal advisory group.

An FCC order in September 2006 presented the program and guidelines for applicants. More than 80 network initiatives applied, and a large majority of them will receive funding, according to a FCC spokesperson. Under a three-year pilot program, the initiatives will receive funds for up to 85 percent of the cost of deploying a dedicated broadband network, as well as up to 85 percent of the broadband connectivity costs.

Participants will be encouraged to coordinate use of their networks with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct biosurveillance activities.

“In order to receive the benefits of EHRs, healthcare providers must have access to underlying broadband infrastructure,” Martin said. “Without this underlying infrastructure, efforts to implement EHRs cannot succeed.”