On December 4, 2018, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) released a Public Notice (“Notice”) seeking additional comment on determining and calculating urban and rural rates in the Rural Health Care (“RHC”) Program, as raised in the December 2017 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) in the proceeding (WC Docket No. 17-130). The RHC Program provides funding to eligible health care to providers for telecommunications and broadband services for the provision of health care, and the Telecom Program ensures rural health care providers pay no more than urban providers for similar services.

The current Commission rules provide that program support is based on rate differences between urban and rural services, and that applicants must justify the rate calculation using one of three methods. In the NPRM, the Commission proposed measures to increase transparency and predictability for participants in the Telecom Program by requiring urban and rural rates to be determined based on more detailed criteria and by providing more flexibility in justifying rates used to determine program support. The Commission sought comment on eliminating distinctions between urban and rural rates, whether to retain the ability to request approval of cost-based rural rates, on modifying the calculation of urban rates to require a rate average, and other possible approaches to calculate rates and discounts (i.e., defining geographic contours, median-based approaches).

The Bureau is reopening a limited comment period to allow parties to supplement the record with any new information or arguments pertaining to the pending urban and rural rate issues and proposals. Specifically, the Notice adds that several carriers have submitted requests for approval of cost-based rural rates to the Bureau, and asks these participants to provide more targeted feedback on the application of the rural rate rule, as well as the other suggested changes.

Comments are due January 7, 2019.

Reply comments are due January 21, 2019.

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