On Thursday, March 26, 2020, the Commission released an Order (“Order”) announcing that the Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) has granted on its own motion additional relief to assist Rural Health Care (“RHC”) Program participants in addressing the ongoing public health emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic (WC Docket No. 02-60). Specifically, the Bureau issued an extension of the RHC Program application filing window until June 30, 2020, eased competitive bidding requirements for health care providers with expiring evergreen contracts, and extended several procedural deadlines. Given the scale of the current public health emergency and the enhanced need for telehealth and telemedicine services, the Bureau concludes that these compelling and unique circumstances merit waivers of the Commission’s rules to provide additional relief to RHC Program participants.
Specifically, the Order extends four procedural deadlines. First, the Bureau waives the 14-day deadline for applicants to respond to USAC information requests and automatically extends that deadline an additional 28 days. An applicant may provide information to USAC even after the deadline has expired if the applicant can reasonably attribute such delay to its efforts to combat COVID-19. This waiver will apply to all information requests issued on or before September 30, 2020, regardless of the funding year for which those requests relate. Second, the Bureau waives the service delivery deadline for non-recurring services in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program for the funding year 2019 and extends that deadline an additional year. Third, the Bureau provides Healthcare Connect Fund Program participants with a 180-day extension of their invoice filing deadline. Lastly, the Bureau extends the 60-day deadline for review or waiver of decisions by USAC, directed to USAC or the Commission and provides an additional 60 days for such requests. This waiver will be in effect for all deadlines of appeals and waiver requests from March 11, 2020, through September 30, 2020.
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