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Monthly Archives

February 2022

Federal government announces new grants to expand internet access in rural areas

By News

Source:  The State

By Alex Roarty

Federal grants totaling more than $277 million are expected to lay the groundwork for broadband internet access in rural America, which will grow even more when billions of dollars in the infrastructure plan are released. Richard B. Levine TNS

WASHINGTON Federal officials on Friday announced nearly $300 million in new grant money meant to expand access to high-speed internet, part of a larger ongoing effort from the federal government to make broadband internet more widely available across the country.

The funds are earmarked for 13 states or territories, including Kentucky, Washington and Missouri, and are expected to give more than 130,000 households the ability to use faster internet service, according to a senior official with the Department of Commerce.

Expanding broadband Internet to areas without it has been a priority of President Joe Biden’s administration, which spearheaded passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure law last year that included tens of billions of dollars to increase access to the service.

“Today’s awards are another example of the Biden administration’s commitment to closing the digital divide and building strong partnerships with those who can help us expand internet access,” said Gina Raimondo, Commerce Department secretary, in a statement.

The money from these grants, however, comes from an appropriations bill approved by Congress in late 2020, according to Senior Commerce Department officials.

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Orangeburg County continuing broadband expansion

By News

Source: Johnson City Press

Orangeburg County Council Tuesday unanimously approved continuing to extend its broadband infrastructure throughout the county.

The council voted to spend $3,333,865 for the first phase of the broadband extension. The company doing the work will be Columbia-based Utility Service Contractors Inc.

The county also approved engaging with Missouri-based Graybar for $1,482,146 for the second phase of the broadband project.

The monies are a part of a $13.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture ReConnect Program grant the county received that covers Cope, Felderville, portions of Santee, Neeses and North.

Phase 1 is eastern Orangeburg with a targeted completion by the end of the year, though there could be delays due to supply-chain issues.

Phase 2 is in western Orangeburg. Phase 2 should be completed by mid-year 2023.

Council also unanimously approved engaging St. Matthews-based Porth Construction for $3,496,190 to build the SC Gateway pump station and make sanitary sewer improvements

The project, which is expected to be complete by year’s end, will help connect the 1,322-acre South Carolina Gateway Industrial Park (formerly JAFZA Magna Park in Santee) to the county’s wastewater system.

In other matters, council gave unanimous first reading to provide a fee-in-lieu-of-tax incentive to a company publicly being identified under the name Project Stallion. Typically, projects are not publicly identified until deals are finalized.

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By News

Source: FCC

By: Anne Veigle

New Rural Broadband Accountability Plan Will Increase
Audits, Verifications and Transparency

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022—The Federal Communications Commission today
announced that it is ready to authorize more than $1.2 billion through the Rural Digital
Opportunity Fund to fund new broadband deployments in 32 states. In the largest funding
round to date, 23 broadband providers will bring broadband service to over 1 million locations.
The Commission also has created the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan, a new effort to
monitor and ensure compliance for universal service high-cost programs including the Rural
Digital Opportunity Fund.

“Today’s announcement means more connectivity is coming to consumers, while we continue
our commitment to make sure that funding goes to areas that truly need it,” said Chairwoman
Rosenworcel. “The new Rural Broadband Accountability Plan will speed up our audit and
verification processes and for the first time make public the results of verifications, audits, and
speed and latency testing. These new measures will help ensure that the providers we fund in
this program will do the job.”

The Rural Broadband Accountability Plan makes a number of changes and enhancements to
existing audit and verification procedures, including:

A fact sheet on the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan is available here:
With today’s sixth funding wave, the Commission has now announced over $4 billion in
funding to winning bidders for new deployments. Meanwhile, Commission staff continue to
carefully review and process long-form applications on a rolling basis. Over the past year the
Commission has taken a number of actions to strengthen its oversight of the program,

  • Increasing audits and verifications of support recipients – The number of audits and
    verifications will double in 2022 as compared to 2021, and include on-site audits as
    well as audits and verifications based upon random selection.
  • Increasing audits and verifications of large and higher-risk support recipients The
    largest dollar recipients will be subject to an on-site audit in at least one state and
    higher-risk recipients will be subject to additional audits and verifications.
  • Increasing program transparency – For the first time, results of verifications, audits,
    and speed and latency performance testing will be made public on USAC’s website.
A fact sheet on the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan is available here:
With today’s sixth funding wave, the Commission has now announced over $4 billion in
funding to winning bidders for new deployments. Meanwhile, Commission staff continue to
carefully review and process long-form applications on a rolling basis. Over the past year the
Commission has taken a number of actions to strengthen its oversight of the program,
  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of
    existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue
    support in approximately 5,000 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure
    state approvals or prosecute their applications. These bidders would have otherwise
    received approximately $350 million.
  • Publishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places
    available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.
For a list of RDOF providers and funding amounts by state, see


FCC Commits $86 Million in Emergency Connectivity Funding, Extends Deadline

By News

Source: Competitor

The FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program has announced commitments of more than $86 million. The FCC Wireline Competition Bureau also released an order extending the deadline for use of the funds from the program by a year. The new date is June 30, 2023.

The tenth wave includes commitments from both Window 1 ($30 million) and Window 2 (almost $56 million). It will provide funding to more than 350 schools, 29 libraries, and 8 consortia. These entities are approved to receive more than 239,000 connected devices and more than 96,000 broadband connections.

The ECF provides connectivity and equipment for use for homework and virtual learning in off-campus scenarios. It is administered by schools and libraries.

The program, which was instituted to support connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic, so far has committed to providing more than $4.62 billion to the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia. It is funded at $7.17 billion.

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FCC Plans to Change Telecom Rate Determination for Rural Providers

By News


By Anuja Vaidya

The commission is seeking comments on proposed changes to how it sets rates for the Rural Health Care Program, which supports rural provider access to broadband and other telecommunications services.

– The Federal Communications Commission plans to change how payment rates are determined for rural providers using telecommunications, including telehealth.

The Rural Health Care Program assists rural healthcare providers with the cost of broadband and other communications services. It includes the Telecommunications (Telecom) Program, which subsidizes the difference between urban and rural rates for telecommunications services, and the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) Program, which promotes broadband services and facilitates the formation of healthcare providers consortia.

The FCC is seeking comment on potential revisions to the rates database for the Telecom Program.

Adopted in 2019, the rates database lists eligible services in the program, median urban and rural rates for services by state, and underlying rate data used to determine the median rates. But the use of the database was waived in funding years 2021 and 2022 due to “anomalies and inconsistencies,” according to the FCC.

Now, the FCC is asking for comment on how best to fix those anomalies, which include examples of lower median rates in more rural tiers as compared with less rural tiers. Rural tiers are groupings of comparable rural areas based on the provider’s location relative to the Census Bureau’s Core Based Statistical Area designation.

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How SC lawmakers plan to spend $2.5B from American Rescue Plan

By News

Source: WCSC Live 5 News


CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – One of South Carolina lawmakers’ top tasks this legislative session has been deciding what to do with an unprecedented amount of money in their control.

For months, lawmakers have been hearing pitches and proposals on how to spend the state’s $2.5 billion allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $2 trillion pandemic stimulus package President Joe Biden signed into law last spring.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have recently passed bills to allocate this money, and each piece of legislation has headed to the opposite chamber for its consideration. Legislators will next need to come to a compromise on one final spending package to send to Gov. Henry McMaster for his signature.

“Investing this money wisely can trigger a transformation for communities across South Carolina for generations to come,” Sen. Harvey Peeler, R – Cherokee and Senate Finance Committee chair, said.

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Roads, Broadband Part of SC House’s $1.8B COVID Relief Plan

By News

Source:  U.S.News & World Report

by: , Jeffrey Collins

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House passed its own version of a plan to spend nearly $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money that has just small differences from the proposal passed by the Senate the day before.

The House’s plan spends $800 million on repairing and rebuilding water and sewer systems, $100 million less than the Senate plan. It also sets aside $400 million for expanding broadband internet into rural areas and gives $100 million to the Office of Resilience to fight flooding and buy land in areas that frequently flood. That money is not in the Senate plan.

Both chambers want to give the Department of Transportation $450 million to replace lost gas tax revenue and jump-start projects like widening Interstate 26 to three lanes between Columbia and Charleston.

“We are living in a state that is gradually corroding,” said Rep. Robert Williams, a Democrat from Darlington.

The House approved the plan 99-11 and it needs just one more routine vote. Since the Senate had its own version that passed unanimously Tuesday, both chambers will eventually have to work the out differences to send the proposal to the governor’s desk.

In the House, most questions surrounded the water and sewer improvements. The bill would require larger systems to put up 25% of a project’s cost to get federal money to pay the rest. Smaller systems would need a 15% match.

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PCC receives $450K Health Equity Grant to expand digital inclusion Lenovo donates 1,000 laptop computers for program

By News

Written by: Kathy Rhoad, Director of Public Relations & Program Development, PCC

BAMBERG, SC—Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) has been awarded a $450,000 Health Equity Initiative grant from the South Carolina Office of Rural Health (SCORH) to increase digital inclusion and expand telehealth in rural areas of South Carolina. 

Through the program, at least 1,000 rural South Carolina residents will receive digital inclusion training, digital devices and 12 months of cellular internet service.

PCC will partner with organizations and agencies such as county libraries, Offices on Aging and other community partners to select eligible participants from rural and underserved communities experiencing high health disparities and digital inequities. Target counties are expected to include Bamberg, Barnwell, Allendale, Marion, Dillon, Orangeburg, Williamsburg, Hampton, Lee and Marlboro.

“This project builds on PCC’s successful Palmetto Connect Digital Inclusion pilot grant program which trained senior citizens from rural and underserved communities on digital life skills,” said PCC Chief Executive Office Kathy Schwarting. “We are pleased to receive this Health Equity Initiative Grant to expand our Palmetto Connect Digital Inclusion program to more rural residents in the state.”

“PCC has collaborated with the Kramden Institute, an organization that provides technology tools and training to deserving families in North Carolina, and Lenovo, a multinational technology company. Lenovo has donated 1,000 laptop computers to augment the Health Equity Initiative grant,” said Schwarting.

“We are grateful for the support of the Kramden Institute and Lenovo. Lenovo’s generous donation of the laptops will be used throughout the training and given to each participant,” said Schwarting. “The laptops are a large factor in the success of the PCC Palmetto Connect Digital Inclusion program. Many rural residents don’t have a digital device or internet access at home so the laptops will connect them to a whole new world of resources and opportunities.”

“At Lenovo, our mission is to provide smarter technology for all, meaning across all ages, genders, nationalities, abilities, and ethnicities,” said Libby Richards, North America community engagement manager at Lenovo. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the severity of the digital divide, especially in rural and low-income communities. Lenovo is proud to provide 1,000 new computers to such a worthwhile cause, as Palmetto Care Connections works to provide digital and health equity in rural and underserved areas.”

“We’re delighted about the partnership with PCC that enables Kramden, based in Durham, North Carolina, to serve senior and rural populations in our neighboring state,” said Cyndy Yu-Robinson, Executive Director of Kramden Institute. “Today, everyone needs technology tools and training for communication, health and social services, commerce, and entertainment.”

Participants in this program will learn the basic skills needed to use a computer and internet in daily life, employment, health and education. Hands-on laptop computer training will include how to send and receive emails, safely navigate the internet and how to connect to health care providers via telehealth, along with resume writing skills, job sourcing and the use of Google productivity tools.

SCORH’s Health Equity Initiative is a partnership with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, and is part of a national effort to address COVID-19 related health disparities and advance health equity in rural and underserved communities. This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with funding from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

About Palmetto Care Connections

Established in 2010, Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) is a non-profit organization that brings technology, broadband, and telehealth solutions to health care providers in rural and underserved areas in South Carolina. PCC’s Palmetto Connect Digital Inclusion SolutionsTM help close the digital divide for residents in rural and underserved communities by increasing internet access and affordability and connecting individuals to quality-of-life resources which can combat social isolation, enhance workforce development and improve health.

About Lenovo

Lenovo (HKSE: 992) (ADR: LNVGY) is a US$60 billion revenue Fortune Global 500 company serving customers in 180 markets around the world. Focused on a bold vision to deliver smarter technology for all, we are developing world-changing technologies that power (through devices and infrastructure) and empower (through solutions, services and software) millions of customers every day and together create a more inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable digital society for everyone, everywhere. To find out more visit and read about the latest news via our StoryHub.

About Kramden Institute

Kramden Institute is a non-profit organization that provides technology tools and training to bridge the digital divide.  Since 2003, Kramden Institute has awarded more than 43,000 computers to deserving families in North Carolina and beyond, and trained more than 7,700 individuals in basic computing skills and STEM interest areas.

The Federal Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act: What You Need to Know

By News

Source: Health Care Law Today/Foley & Lardner LLP

By: Thomas B. Ferrante and nathaniel M. Lacktman – 02.15.22

“We’re still feeling the impacts of coronavirus, especially in older and more vulnerable populations, which is why these telehealth services must be extended.”

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

On February 7, 2022, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Telemedicine Extension and Evaluation Act, an important bipartisan legislation to ensure predictable patient access to telehealth following the end of the public health emergency, allow more time to gather data around virtual care utilization and efficacy, and avoid a sudden drop-off in access to care (known as the telehealth cliff).

What is the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act?

The Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act would establish a two-year extension for certain COVID-19 emergency telehealth waivers. The legislation aims to extend the waivers of the geographic and site restrictions and allow Medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth even when at home; allow controlled substances to be prescribed via an initial telehealth encounter under the Ryan Haight Act; and extend Medicare payment flexibilities for Rural Health Centers (RHCs), Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). To address Medicare program integrity concerns, the bill also introduces in-person restrictions on telehealth orders for certain high-cost durable medical equipment (DME) and laboratory tests. It also contains language that might serve to restrict the use of “incident to” billing for telehealth services.

“The waivers were a key part in allowing healthcare providers to meet patients where they live, and we risk reversing the great progress we have seen if we go back to the way things were prior to the pandemic.”

– René Quashie, Vice President, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Digital Health, Consumer Technology Association

The bill follows an advocacy letter signed by 336 organizations, co-led by the American Telemedicine Association and other leading stakeholders, urging Congressional leaders to continue the current telehealth waivers and enact permanent, evidence-based telehealth legislation for implementation in 2024.

Key Takeaways for the Telehealth Industry

Here are the key takeaways on how the new legislation may affect the telehealth industry.

1. General Extension of Medicare Payment for Telehealth Services

Under the CARES Act, Congress gave CMS authority to waive certain limitations on Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries, clearing the way for Medicare beneficiaries to receive care in their homes. If passed into law, the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act would extend certain Medicare telehealth payment waivers on originating site and geographic location limitations, expand the list of permissible telehealth providers, and broaden the availably of audio-only telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries for two years after the public health emergency ends. Read our prior coverage here and here.

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New Senate Bill Aims to Extend Medicare Telehealth Waivers By Two Years

By News

Source:  mHealthIntelligence

By Anuja Vaidya

The bill proposes extending Medicare reimbursement for a range of telehealth services, including substance abuse treatment, for two years after the public health emergency has ended.

– A new piece of bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the US Senate that aims to extend access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

Dubbed the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, the bill was introduced by US Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Todd Young (R-IN).

The legislation includes provisions that would allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend Medicare reimbursement for several telehealth services for two years after the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended. These include coverage for services provided by critical access hospitals, federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and reimbursement for virtual substance abuse treatment.

The bill also includes a provision to extend waivers allowing the prescription of controlled substances via telehealth.

In addition to proposing extended telehealth flexibilities, the legislation also commissions a study on the impact of those flexibilities. The study results will help Congress decide which telehealth flexibilities to make permanent following the pandemic.

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