FCC gives remote health care a huge funding boost

Rural patients should have a better chance of seeing a doctor.

Rural residents might soon have a better chance of seeing a doctor without venturing into the city. The FCC has raised the annual spending cap on the Rural Health Care Program by 43 percent to $571 million to tackle "funding shortages" driven by a spike in demand for remote medical services. To call this overdue would be an understatement -- the FCC noted that the previous cap ($400 million) had been established in 1997, when rural broadband was just a pipe dream. The boost reflects what that fund would be worth if it had accounted for inflation over the past 21 years.

The regulator promised that it would adjust the cap for inflation on a yearly basis, and would let any unused spending carry forward.

The current FCC leadership hasn't won many fans in technology circles, but this telemedicine increase (along with hoped-for increases in rural broadband funding) could be crucial in the long run. High-speed rural internet is promising precisely because it closes service gaps for people who can't (or don't want to) live in urban areas. In theory, this helps fulfill that promise.