On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee held its first FCC Oversight hearing of the 115th Congress with all three current Commissioners in attendance, including Chairman Ajit Pai who was recently re-nominated to be the FCC Chairman by President Trump. While the hearing primarily focused on a number of larger issues at the FCC, including net neutrality and privacy, it did touch on issues that have health IT implications. Throughout the hearing, both Senators and FCC commissioners discussed the importance of affordable and reliable broadband, particularly in rural and underserved areas, which is critical for the deployment of telehealth services. Senators expressed their hope that broadband deployment will be included in any infrastructure plan that Congress or the President proposes.
In her opening statement, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn touted the benefits of telehealth for those living in rural areas or those living at or below the poverty line, including increased access to healthcare services. She also singled out the need to reform the Rural Health Care Program, which includes the Healthcare Connect Fund. Additionally, Senator Sullivan (R-AK) and FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly discussed the positive role telemedicine plays in Alaska, and the benefits it has for rural and underserved communities across the country.