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America is a big place. In many parts of the country, people live far from neighbors, downtowns, and services like health care that are easy to find in urban areas. Electronic communications networks can connect everyone, no matter where they live, to expert medical professionals. They can also knit these professionals and their home institutions into large- and small-scale networks that enable them to deliver faster, better, and cheaper health care than any of them could on their own.
This is the vision of the Universal Service Rural Health Care Pilot Program: thousands of health care providers in regions across the country connected by robust electronic communications channels, able to respond cohesively to public health threats, sharing the ever-increasing volume of data involved in providing care, and making advanced medicine available to Americans wherever they live.
Authorized by Congress and designed by the Federal Communications Commission, the Rural Health Care Pilot Program consists of 50 separate projects involving thousands of participating institutions. USAC works with participants to make sure their efforts to develop project plans, identify and select vendors, and assemble networks proceed in compliance with the program rules set by the FCC. The FCC has made $417 million available for funding the work of program participants.
Coaches assigned to each project develop deep knowledge of the needs and goals of all 50 participating groups along with an understanding of the rules to make sure all the projects succeed. USAC reviews program documents, monitors competitive bidding processes, and approves and disburses funding for program activities. In 2011, USAC made payments totaling more than $50 million for the program.
The FCC named 69 projects as participants in the Pilot Program in 2007. Currently consisting of 50 projects operating in 42 states and three U.S. territories, the Pilot Program connects public and non-profit health care providers to government research institutions, as well as academic, public, and private health care institutions that are repositories of medical expertise and information. Projects receive up to 85 percent of the costs of the actual infrastructure design and construction of broadband networks for health care purposes, with the remaining portion their responsibility. Per program rules, selected participants’ network build-outs must be completed within six years of receiving an initial funding commitment letter from USAC.