FCC Lifts Gift Rules To Help Clinics, Schools Amid COVID-19

By Nadia Dreid
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Law360 (March 18, 2020, 8:26 PM EDT) -- The Federal Communications Commission is making it easier for internet service providers to supply schools, libraries and health clinics with free equipment and upgrades as they battle new challenges posed by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the agency said Wednesday.

Health service providers, libraries and schools who partake in the agency's programs for subsidizing telecommunications services normally can't solicit or accept gifts from ISPs who also participate in the program, but the FCC is loosening those rules.

"The increase in COVID-19 patients is presenting unique challenges to America's hospitals and health care providers," Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. "Similarly, as the number of school closures continues to grow, schools are increasingly turning to remote learning for students who will be home for an extended period of time."

In doing so, Pai said he hopes to encourage service providers to "step up" and provide expanded services and equipment to hospitals and other health clinics who will have to ramp up their telemedicine services and schools who will be venturing into remote learning.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel lauded the gift rules waiver as a "smart step to assist in the coronavirus response" Wednesday, but said in a statement that the agency needed to do much more to make sure those stuck at home had reliable internet access.

For example, lifting data caps and overage fees, she said.

"[Let's] not confuse generosity for justice, because we need a national plan to ensure that everyone is connected during these unprecedented days," Rosenworcel said. "This crisis demands urgent action. There's more the FCC can do right now — and we should."

Nearly 8,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been diagnosed in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The virus has also reached all 50 states, with West Virginia becoming the last state to diagnose a case Tuesday.

--Editing by Brian Baresch.

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