The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on March 18 waived gift rules for its Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate programs to allow broadband service providers to support telehealth and remote learning capabilities during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

“By waiving certain FCC rules today, we are giving service providers the chance to step up and give healthcare providers more tools to fight the ongoing pandemic and serve patients more effectively, like increased capacity, more equipment, additional services, and other tools that will help them deliver the best possible patient care,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

Under the new rules, healthcare providers, schools, and libraries can accept broadband equipment and other related gifts from industry partners. According to FCC, providers have already offered free network upgrades at hospitals or connected devices of students taking classes at home. Under RHC and E-Rate gift rules, however, participating institutions could not accept the gifts before the rule change.

Pai said he “strongly encourage[s]” service providers and equipment makers to partner with institutions in need “to help bridge the digital divide during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The gift rule waiver will be in effect through September 2020. The waiver came just one day after 16 senators sent a letter to Pai urging the chairman to allow schools to use E-Rate funds to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or devices with Wi-Fi capability to students who lack internet access at home.

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