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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR data is current as of January 16, 2020

Title 47Chapter ISubchapter BPart 54 → Subpart G


Title 47: Telecommunication
PART 54—UNIVERSAL SERVICE


Subpart G—Defined Terms and Eligibility


Contents
§54.600   Terms and definitions.
§54.601   Health care provider eligibility.
§54.602   Health care support mechanism.

Telecommunications Program

§54.603   Consortia, telecommunications services, and existing contracts.
§54.604   Determining the urban rate.
§54.605   Determining the rural rate.
§54.606   Calculating support.

Healthcare Connect Fund Program

§54.607   Eligible recipients.
§54.608   Eligible service providers.
§54.609   Designation of Consortium Leader.
§54.610   Letters of agency (LOA).
§54.611   Health care provider contribution.
§54.612   Eligible services.
§54.613   Eligible equipment.
§54.614   Eligible participant-constructed and owned network facilities for consortium applicants.
§54.615   Off-site data centers and off-site administrative offices.
§54.616   Upfront payments.
§54.617   Ineligible expenses.
§54.618   Data collection and reporting.

General Provisions

§54.619   Cap.
§54.620   Annual filing requirements and commitments.
§54.621   Filing window for requests and prioritization of support.
§54.622   Competitive bidding requirements and exemptions.
§54.623   Funding requests.
§54.624   Site and service substitutions.
§54.625   Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) changes.
§54.626   Service delivery deadline and extension requests.
§54.627   Invoicing process and certifications.
§54.628   Duplicate support.
§54.629   Prohibition on resale.
§54.630   Election to offset support against annual universal service fund contribution.
§54.631   Audits and recordkeeping.
§54.632   Signature requirements for certifications.
§54.633   Validity of electronic signatures and records.

Source: 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, unless otherwise noted.

§54.600   Terms and definitions.

As used in this subpart, the following terms shall be defined as follows:

(a) Funding year. A “funding year” for purposes of the funding cap shall be the period between July 1 of the current calendar year through June 30 of the next calendar year.

(b) Health care provider. A “health care provider” is any:

(1) Post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, including a teaching hospital or medical school;

(2) Community health center or health center providing health care to migrants;

(3) Local health department or agency;

(4) Community mental health center;

(5) Not-for-profit hospital;

(6) Rural health clinic;

(7) Skilled nursing facility (as defined in section 395i-3(a) of Title 42); or a

(8) Consortium of health care providers consisting of one or more entities described in paragraphs (b)(1) through (7) in this section.

(c) Off-site administrative office. An “off-site administrative office” is a facility that does not provide hands-on delivery of patient care but performs administrative support functions that are critical to the provision of clinical care by eligible health care providers.

(d) Off-site data center. An “off-site data center” is a facility that serves as a centralized repository for the storage, management, and dissemination of an eligible health care provider's computer systems, associated components, and data, including (but not limited to) electronic health records.

(e) Rural area. A “rural area” is an area that is entirely outside of a Core Based Statistical Area; is within a Core Based Statistical Area that does not have any Urban Area with a population of 25,000 or greater; or is in a Core Based Statistical Area that contains an Urban Area with a population of 25,000 or greater, but is within a specific census tract that itself does not contain any part of a Place or Urban Area with a population of greater than 25,000. For purposes of this rule, “Core Based Statistical Area,” “Urban Area,” and “Place” are as identified by the Census Bureau.

(f) Rural health care provider. A “rural health care provider” is an eligible health care provider site located in a rural area.

(g) Urbanized area. An “urbanized area” is an area with 50,000 or more people as designated by the Census Bureau based on the most recent decennial Census.

§54.601   Health care provider eligibility.

(a) Eligible health care providers. (1) Only an entity that is either a public or non-profit health care provider, as defined in this subpart, shall be eligible to receive support under this subpart.

(2) Each separate site or location of a health care provider shall be considered an individual health care provider for purposes of calculating and limiting support under this subpart.

(b) Determination of health care provider eligibility for the Healthcare Connect Fund Program. Health care providers in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program may certify to the eligibility of particular sites at any time prior to, or concurrently with, filing a request for services to initiate competitive bidding for the site. Applicants who utilize a competitive bidding exemption must provide eligibility information for the site to the Administrator prior to, or concurrently with, filing a request for funding for the site. Health care providers must also notify the Administrator within 30 days of a change in the health care provider's name, site location, contact information, or eligible entity type.

§54.602   Health care support mechanism.

(a) Telecommunications Program. Eligible rural health care providers may request support for the difference, if any, between the urban and rural rates for telecommunications services, subject to the provisions and limitations set forth in §§54.600 through 54.602 and 54.603 through 54.606. This support is referred to as the “Telecommunications Program.”

(b) Healthcare Connect Fund Program. Eligible health care providers may request support for eligible services, equipment, and infrastructure, subject to the provisions and limitations set forth in §§54.600 through 54.602 and 54.607 through 54.618. This support is referred to as the “Healthcare Connect Fund Program.”

(c) Allocation of discounts. An eligible health care provider that engages in both eligible and ineligible activities or that collocates with an ineligible entity shall allocate eligible and ineligible activities in order to receive prorated support for the eligible activities only. Health care providers shall choose a method of cost allocation that is based on objective criteria and reasonably reflects the eligible usage of the facilities.

(d) Health care purposes. Services for which eligible health care providers receive support from the Telecommunications Program or the Healthcare Connect Fund Program must be reasonably related to the provision of health care services or instruction that the health care provider is legally authorized to provide under the law in the state in which such health care services or instruction are provided.

Telecommunications Program

§54.603   Consortia, telecommunications services, and existing contracts.

(a) Consortia. (1) Under the Telecommunications Program, an eligible health care provider may join a consortium with other eligible health care providers; with schools, libraries, and library consortia eligible under subpart F of this part; and with public sector (governmental) entities to order telecommunications services. With one exception, eligible health care providers participating in consortia with ineligible private sector members shall not be eligible for supported services under this subpart. A consortium may include ineligible private sector entities if such consortium is only receiving services at tariffed rates or at market rates from those providers who do not file tariffs.

(2) For consortia, universal service support under the Telecommunications Program shall apply only to the portion of eligible services used by an eligible health care provider.

(b) Telecommunications services. Any telecommunications service that is the subject of a properly completed bona fide request by a rural health care provider shall be eligible for universal service support. Upon submitting a bona fide request to a telecommunications carrier, each eligible rural health care provider is entitled to receive the most cost-effective, commercially-available telecommunications service, and a telecommunications service carrier that is eligible for support under the Telecommunications Program shall provide such service at the urban rate, as defined in §54.604.

(c) Existing contracts. A signed contract for services eligible for Telecommunications Program support pursuant to this subpart between an eligible health care provider, as defined under §54.600, and a service provider shall be exempt from the competitive bid requirements as set forth in §54.622(i).

§54.604   Determining the urban rate.

(a) Urban rate. An applicant shall use the applicable urban rate currently available in the Administrator's database when requesting funding. The “urban rate” shall be the median of all available rates identified by the Administrator for functionally similar services in all urbanized areas of the state where the health care provider is located to the extent that urbanized area falls within the state.

(b) Database. The Administrator shall create and maintain on its website a database that lists, by state, the eligible Telecommunications Program services and the related urban rate.

§54.605   Determining the rural rate.

(a) Rural rate. An applicant shall use the lower of the applicable “rural rate” currently available in the Administrator's database or the rural rate included in the service agreement that the health care provider enters into with the service provider when requesting funding.

(1) For purposes of paragraph (a) of this section, The rural rate will be determined using the following tiers in which a health care provider is located:

(i) Extremely Rural. Areas entirely outside of a Core Based Statistical Area.

(ii) Rural. Areas within a Core Based Statistical Area that does not have an Urban Area with a population of 25,000 or greater.

(iii) Less rural. Areas in a Core Based Statistical Area that contains an Urban Area with a population of 25,000 or greater, but are within a specific census tract that itself does not contain any part of a Place or Urban Area with a population of greater than 25,000.

(iv) Frontier. For health care providers located in Alaska only, areas outside of a Core Based Statistical Area that are inaccessible by road as determined by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, Division of Community and Regional Affairs. The “rural rate” shall be the median of all available rates for the same or functionally similar service offered within the rural tier, applicable to the health care provider's location within the state. The Administrator shall not include any rates reduced by universal service support mechanisms. The “rural rate” shall be used as described in this subpart to determine the credit or reimbursement due to a telecommunications carrier that provides eligible telecommunications services to eligible health care providers.

(b) Database. The Administrator shall create and maintain on its website a database that lists, by state, the eligible Telecommunications Program services and the related rural rate for each such service and for each rural tier.

(c) Request for waiver. A petition for a waiver of the “rural rate,” as described in paragraph (a) in this section, may be granted if the service provider demonstrates that application of the rural rate published by the Administrator would result in a projected rate of return on the net investment in the assets used to provide the rural health care service that is less than the Commission-prescribed rate of return for incumbent rate of return local exchange carriers (LECs). All waiver requests must articulate specific facts that demonstrate that “good cause” exists to grant the requested waiver and that granting the requested waiver would be in the public interest. To satisfy this standard, the waiver request must be substantiated through documentary evidence as stated in the following. A waiver request will not be entertained if it does not also set forth a rural rate that the service provider demonstrates will permit it to obtain no more than the current Commission prescribed rate of return authorized for incumbent rate of return local exchange carriers.

(1) For purposes of paragraph (c), petitions seeking a waiver must include all financial data and other information to verify the service provider's assertions, including, at a minimum, the following information:

(i) Company-wide and rural health care service gross investment, accumulated depreciation, deferred state and federal income taxes, and net investment; capital costs by category expressed as annual figures (e.g., depreciation expense, state and federal income tax expense, return on net investment); operating expenses by category (e.g., maintenance expense, administrative and other overhead expenses, and tax expense other than income tax expense); the applicable state and federal income tax rates; fixed charges (e.g., interest expense); and any income tax adjustments;

(ii) An explanation and a set of detailed spreadsheets showing the direct assignment of costs to the rural health care service and how company-wide common costs are allocated among the company's services, including the rural health care service, and the result of these direct assignments and allocations as necessary to develop a rate for the rural health care service;

(iii) The company-wide and rural health care service costs for the most recent calendar year for which full-time actual, historical cost data are available;

(iv) Projections of the company-wide and rural health care service costs for the funding year in question and an explanation of those projections;

(v) Actual monthly demand data for the rural health care service for the most recent three calendar years (if applicable);

(vi) Projections of the monthly demand for the rural health care service for the funding year in question, and the data and details on the methodology used to make those projections;

(vii) The annual revenue requirement (capital costs and operating expenses expressed as an annual number plus a return on net investment) and the rate for the funded service (annual revenue requirement divided by annual demand divided by twelve equals the monthly rate for the service), assuming one rate element for the service), based on the projected rural health care service costs and demands;

(viii) Audited financial statements and notes to the financial statements, if available, and otherwise unaudited financial statements for the most recent three fiscal years, specifically, the cash flow statement, income statement, and balance sheets. Such statements shall include information regarding costs and revenues associated with, or used as a starting point to develop, the rural health care service rate; and

(ix) Density characteristics of the rural area or other relevant geographical areas including square miles, road miles, mountains, bodies of water, lack of roads, remoteness, challenges and costs associated with transporting fuel, satellite and backhaul availability, extreme weather conditions, challenging topography, short construction season or any other characteristics that contribute to the high cost of servicing the health care providers.

§54.606   Calculating support.

(a) The amount of universal service support provided for an eligible service to be funded from the Telecommunications program shall be the difference, if any, between the urban rate and the rural rate charged for the services, as defined in this section. In addition, all reasonable charges that are incurred by taking such services, such as state and federal taxes, shall be eligible for universal service support. Charges for termination liability, penalty surcharges, and other charges not included in the cost of taking such service shall not be covered by the universal service support mechanisms.

(b) The universal service support mechanisms shall provide support for intrastate telecommunications services, as set forth in §54.101(a), provided to rural health care providers as well as interstate telecommunications services.

(c) Mobile rural health care providers—(1) Calculation of support. The support amount allowed under the Telecommunications Program for satellite services provided to mobile rural health care providers is calculated by comparing the rate for the satellite service to the rate for an urban wireline service with a similar bandwidth. Support for satellite services shall not be capped at an amount of a functionally similar wireline alternative. Where the mobile rural health care provider provides service in more than one state, the calculation shall be based on the urban areas in each state, proportional to the number of locations served in each state.

(2) Documentation of support. (i) Mobile rural health care providers shall provide to the Administrator documentation of the price of bandwidth equivalent wireline services in the urban area in the state or states where the service is provided. Mobile rural health care providers shall provide to the Administrator the number of sites the mobile health care provider will serve during the funding year.

(ii) Where a mobile rural health care provider serves less than eight different sites per year, the mobile rural health care provider shall provide to the Administrator documentation of the price of bandwidth equivalent wireline services. In such case, the Administrator shall determine on a case-by-case basis whether the telecommunications service selected by the mobile rural health care provider is the most cost-effective option. Where a mobile rural health care provider seeks a more expensive satellite-based service when a less expensive wireline alternative is most cost-effective, the mobile rural health care provider shall be responsible for the additional cost.

Healthcare Connect Fund Program

§54.607   Eligible recipients.

(a) Rural health care provider site—individual and consortium. Under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, an eligible rural health care provider may receive universal service support by applying individually or through a consortium. For purposes of the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, a “consortium” is a group of two or more health care provider sites that request support through a single application. Consortia may include health care providers who are not eligible for support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, but such health care providers cannot receive support for their expenses and must participate pursuant to the cost allocation guidelines in §54.617(d).

(b) Limitation on participation of non-rural health care provider sites in a consortium. An eligible non-rural health care provider site may receive universal service support only as part of a consortium that includes more than 50 percent eligible rural health care provider sites. The majority-rural consortia percentage requirement will increase by 5 percent for the following funding year (up to a maximum of 75 percent) if the Commission must prioritize funding for a given year because Rural Health Care Program demand exceeds the funding cap.

(c) Limitation on large non-rural hospitals. Each eligible non-rural public or non-profit hospital site with 400 or more licensed patient beds may receive no more than $30,000 per year in Healthcare Connect Fund Program support for eligible recurring charges and no more than $70,000 in Healthcare Connect Fund Program support every five years for eligible nonrecurring charges, exclusive in both cases of costs shared by the network.

§54.608   Eligible service providers.

For purposes of the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, eligible service providers shall include any provider of equipment, facilities, or services that is eligible for support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program.

§54.609   Designation of Consortium Leader.

(a) Identifying a Consortium Leader. Each consortium seeking support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program must identify an entity or organization that will lead the consortium (the “Consortium Leader”).

(b) Consortium Leader eligibility. The Consortium Leader may be the consortium itself (if it is a distinct legal entity); an eligible health care provider participating in the consortium; or a state organization, public sector (governmental) entity (including a Tribal government entity), or non-profit entity that is ineligible for Healthcare Connect Fund Program support. Ineligible state organizations, public sector entities, or non-profit entities may serve as Consortium Leaders or provide consulting assistance to consortia only if they do not participate as potential service providers during the competitive bidding process. An ineligible entity that serves as the Consortium Leader must pass on the full value of any discounts, funding, or other program benefits secured to the consortium members that are eligible health care providers.

(c) Consortium Leader responsibilities. The Consortium Leader's responsibilities include the following:

(1) Legal and financial responsibility for supported activities. The Consortium Leader is the legally and financially responsible entity for the activities supported by the Healthcare Connect Fund Program. By default, the Consortium Leader is the responsible entity if audits or other investigations by Administrator or the Commission reveal violations of the Act or Commission rules, with individual consortium members being jointly and severally liable if the Consortium Leader dissolves, files for bankruptcy, or otherwise fails to meet its obligations. Except for the responsibilities specifically described in paragraphs (c)(2) through (6) in this section, consortia may allocate legal and financial responsibility as they see fit, provided that this allocation is memorialized in a formal written agreement between the affected parties (i.e., the Consortium Leader, and the consortium as a whole and/or its individual members), and the written agreement is submitted to the Administrator for approval with, or prior to, the request for services. Any such agreement must clearly identify the party(ies) responsible for repayment if the Administrator, at a later date, seeks to recover disbursements of support to the consortium due to violations of program rules.

(2) Point of contact for the FCC and Administrator. The Consortium Leader is responsible for designating an individual who will be the “Project Coordinator” and serve as the point of contact with the Commission and the Administrator for all matters related to the consortium. The Consortium Leader is responsible for responding to Commission and Administrator inquiries on behalf of the consortium members throughout the application, funding, invoicing, and post-invoicing period.

(3) Typical applicant functions, including forms and certifications. The Consortium Leader is responsible for submitting program forms and required documentation and ensuring that all information and certifications submitted are true and correct. The Consortium Leader must also collect and retain a Letter of Agency (LOA) from each member, pursuant to §54.610.

(4) Competitive bidding and cost allocation. The Consortium Leader is responsible for ensuring that the competitive bidding process is fair and open and otherwise complies with Commission requirements. If costs are shared by both eligible and ineligible entities, the Consortium Leader must ensure that costs are allocated in a manner that ensures that only eligible entities receive the benefit of program discounts.

(5) Invoicing. The Consortium Leader is responsible for notifying the Administrator when supported services have commenced and for submitting invoices to the Administrator.

(6) Recordkeeping, site visits, and audits. The Consortium Leader is also responsible for compliance with the Commission's recordkeeping requirements and for coordinating site visits and audits for all consortium members.

§54.610   Letters of agency (LOA).

(a) Authorizations. Under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, the Consortium Leader must obtain the following authorizations:

(1) Prior to the submission of the request for services, the Consortium Leader must obtain authorization, the necessary certifications, and any supporting documentation from each consortium member to permit the Consortium Leader to submit the request for services and prepare and post the request for proposal on behalf of the member.

(2) Prior to the submission of the funding request, the Consortium Leader must secure authorization, the necessary certifications, and any supporting documentation from each consortium member to permit the Consortium Leader to submit the funding request and manage invoicing and payments on behalf of the member.

(b) Optional two-step process. The Consortium Leader may secure both required authorizations from each consortium member in either a single LOA or in two separate LOAs.

(c) Required information in a LOA. (1) An LOA must include, at a minimum, the name of the entity filing the application (i.e., lead applicant or Consortium Leader); the name of the entity authorizing the filing of the application (i.e., the participating health care provider/consortium member); the physical location of the health care provider/consortium member site(s); the relationship of each site seeking support to the lead entity filing the application; the specific timeframe the LOA covers; the signature, title and contact information (including phone number, mailing address, and email address) of an official who is authorized to act on behalf of the health care provider/consortium member; the signature date; and the type of services covered by the LOA.

(2) For health care providers located on Tribal lands, if the health care facility is a contract facility that is run solely by the tribe, the appropriate Tribal leader, such as the Tribal chairperson, president, or governor, shall also sign the LOA, unless the health care responsibilities have been duly delegated to another Tribal government representative.

§54.611   Health care provider contribution.

(a) Health care provider contribution. All health care providers receiving support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program shall receive a 65 percent discount on the cost of eligible expenses and shall be required to contribute 35 percent of the total cost of all eligible expenses.

(b) Limits on eligible sources of health care provider contribution. Only funds from eligible sources may be applied toward the health care provider's required contribution.

(1) Eligible sources include the applicant or eligible health care provider participants; state grants, appropriations, or other sources of state funding; federal grants, loans, appropriations except for other federal universal service funding, or other sources of federal funding; Tribal government funding; and other grants, including private grants.

(2) Ineligible sources include (but are not limited to) in-kind or implied contributions from health care providers; direct payments from service providers, including contractors and consultants to such entities; and for-profit entities.

(c) Disclosure of health care provider contribution source. Prior to receiving support, applicants are required to identify with specificity their sources of funding for their contribution of eligible expenses.

(d) Future revenues from excess capacity as source of health care provider contribution. A consortium applicant that receives support for participant-owned network facilities under §54.614 may use future revenues from excess capacity as a source for the required health care provider contribution, subject to the following limitations:

(1) The consortium's selection criteria and evaluation for “cost-effectiveness,” pursuant to §54.622(g)(1), cannot provide a preference to bidders that offer to construct excess capacity;

(2) The applicant must pay the full amount of the additional costs for excess capacity facilities that will not be part of the supported health care network;

(3) The additional cost of constructing excess capacity facilities may not count toward a health care provider's required contribution;

(4) The inclusion of excess capacity facilities cannot increase the funded cost of the dedicated health care network in any way;

(5) An eligible health care provider (typically the consortium, although it may be an individual health care provider participating in the consortium) must retain ownership of the excess capacity facilities. It may make the facilities available to third parties only under an indefeasible right of use (IRU) or lease arrangement. The lease or IRU between the participant and the third party must be an arm's length transaction. To ensure that this is an arm's length transaction, neither the service provider that installs the excess capacity facilities nor its affiliate is eligible to enter into an IRU or lease with the participant;

(6) Any amount prepaid for use of the excess capacity facilities (IRU or lease) must be placed in an escrow account. The participant can then use the escrow account as an eligible source of funds for the participant's 35 percent contribution to the project; and

(7) All revenues from use of the excess capacity facilities by the third party must be used for the health care provider contribution or for the sustainability of the health care network supported by the Healthcare Connect Fund Program. Network costs that may be funded with any additional revenues that remain will include: Administration costs, equipment, software, legal fees, or other costs not covered by the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, as long as they are relevant to sustaining the network.

§54.612   Eligible services.

(a) Eligible services. Subject to the provisions of §§54.600 through 54.602 and 54.607 through 54.633, eligible health care providers may request support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program for any advanced telecommunications or information service that enables health care providers to post their own data, interact with stored data, generate new data, or communicate, by providing connectivity over private dedicated networks or the public internet for the provision of health information technology.

(b) Eligibility of dark fiber. A consortium of eligible health care providers may receive support for “dark” fiber where the customer, not the service provider, provides the modulating electronics, subject to the following limitations:

(1) Support for recurring charges associated with dark fiber is only available once the dark fiber is “lit” and actually being used by the health care provider. Support for non-recurring charges for dark fiber is only available for fiber lit within the same funding year, but applicants may receive up to a one-year extension to light fiber, consistent with §54.626(b), if they provide documentation to the Administrator that construction was unavoidably delayed due to weather or other reasons.

(2) Requests for proposals that solicit dark fiber solutions must also solicit proposals to provide the needed services over lit fiber over a time period comparable to the duration of the dark fiber lease or indefeasible right of use.

(3) If an applicant intends to request support for equipment and maintenance costs associated with lighting and operating dark fiber, it must include such elements in the same request for proposal as the dark fiber so that the Administrator can review all costs associated with the fiber when determining whether the applicant chose the most cost-effective bid.

(c) Dark and lit fiber maintenance costs. (1) Both individual and consortium applicants may receive support for recurring maintenance costs associated with leases of dark or lit fiber.

(2) Consortium applicants may receive support for upfront payments for maintenance costs associated with leases of dark or lit fiber, subject to the limitations in §54.616.

(d) Reasonable and customary installation charges. Eligible health care providers may obtain support for reasonable and customary installation charges for eligible services, up to an undiscounted cost of $5,000 per eligible site.

(e) Upfront charges for service provider deployment of new or upgraded facilities. (1) Participants may obtain support for upfront charges for service provider deployment of new or upgraded facilities to serve eligible sites.

(2) Support is available to extend service provider deployment of facilities up to the “demarcation point,” which is the boundary between facilities owned or controlled by the service provider, and facilities owned or controlled by the customer.

§54.613   Eligible equipment.

(a) Both individual and consortium applicants may receive support for network equipment necessary to make functional an eligible service supported under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program.

(b) Consortium applicants may also receive support for network equipment necessary to manage, control, or maintain an eligible service or a dedicated health care broadband network. Support for network equipment is not available for networks that are not dedicated to health care.

(c) Network equipment eligible for support includes the following:

(1) Equipment that terminates a carrier's or other provider's transmission facility and any router/switch that is directly connected to either the facility or the terminating equipment. This includes equipment required to light dark fiber, or equipment necessary to connect dedicated health care broadband networks or individual health care providers to middle mile or backbone networks;

(2) Computers, including servers, and related hardware (e.g., printers, scanners, laptops) that are used exclusively for network management;

(3) Software used for network management, maintenance, or other network operations, and development of software that supports network management, maintenance, and other network operations;

(4) Costs of engineering, furnishing (i.e., as delivered from the manufacturer), and installing network equipment; and

(5) Equipment that is a necessary part of health care provider-owned network facilities.

(d) Additional limitations: Support for network equipment is limited to equipment:

(1) Purchased or leased by a Consortium Leader or eligible health care provider; and

(2) Used for health care purposes.

§54.614   Eligible participant-constructed and owned network facilities for consortium applicants.

(a) Subject to the funding limitations of this subsection and the following restrictions, consortium applicants may receive support for network facilities that will be constructed and owned by the consortium (if the consortium is an eligible health care provider) or eligible health care providers within the consortium. Subject to the funding limitations under §§54.616 and 54.619 and the following restrictions, consortium applicants may receive support for network facilities that will be constructed and owned by the consortium (if the consortium is an eligible health care provider) or eligible health care providers within the consortium.

(1) Consortia seeking support to construct and own network facilities are required to solicit bids for both:

(i) Services provided over third-party networks; and

(ii) Construction of participant-owned network facilities, in the same request for proposals. Requests for proposals must provide sufficient detail so that cost-effectiveness can be evaluated over the useful life of the proposed network facility to be constructed.

(2) Support for participant-constructed and owned network facilities is only available where the consortium demonstrates that constructing its own network facilities is the most cost-effective option after competitive bidding, pursuant to §54.622(g)(1).

(b) [Reserved]

§54.615   Off-site data centers and off-site administrative offices.

(a) The connections and network equipment associated with off-site data centers and off-site administrative offices used by eligible health care providers for their health care purposes are eligible for support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, subject to the conditions and restrictions set forth in paragraph (b) in this section.

(b) Conditions and restrictions. The following conditions and restrictions apply to support provided under this section.

(1) Connections eligible for support are only those that are between:

(i) Eligible health care provider sites and off-site data centers or off-site administrative offices;

(ii) Two off-site data centers;

(iii) Two off-site administrative offices;

(iv) An off-site data center and the public internet or another network;

(v) An off-site administrative office and the public internet or another network; or

(vi) An off-site administrative office and an off-site data center.

(2) The supported connections and network equipment must be used solely for health care purposes.

(3) The supported connections and network equipment must be purchased by an eligible health care provider or a public or non-profit health care system that owns and operates eligible health care provider sites.

(4) If traffic associated with one or more ineligible health care provider sites is carried by the supported connection and/or network equipment, the ineligible health care provider sites must allocate the cost of that connection and/or equipment between eligible and ineligible sites, consistent with the “fair share” principles set forth in §54.617(d)(1).

§54.616   Upfront payments.

(a) Upfront payments include all non-recurring costs for services, equipment, or facilities, other than reasonable and customary installation charges of up to $5,000.

(b) The following limitations apply to all upfront payments:

(1) Upfront payments associated with services providing a bandwidth of less than 1.5 Mbps (symmetrical) are not eligible for support; and

(2) Only consortium applicants are eligible for support for upfront payments.

(c) The following limitations apply if a consortium makes a request for support for upfront payments that exceeds, on average, $50,000 per eligible site in the consortium:

(1) The support for the upfront payments must be prorated over at least three years; and

(2) The upfront payments must be part of a multi-year contract.

§54.617   Ineligible expenses.

(a) Equipment or services not directly associated with eligible services. Expenses associated with equipment or services that are not necessary to make an eligible service functional, or to manage, control, or maintain an eligible service or a dedicated health care broadband network are ineligible for support. For purposes of paragraph (a) of this section, examples of ineligible expenses include:

(1) Costs associated with general computing, software, applications, and internet content development are not supported, including the following:

(i) Computers, including servers, and related hardware (e.g., printers, scanners, laptops), unless used exclusively for network management, maintenance, or other network operations;

(ii) End user wireless devices, such as smartphones and tablets;

(iii) Software, unless used for network management, maintenance, or other network operations;

(iv) Software development (excluding development of software that supports network management, maintenance, and other network operations);

(v) Helpdesk equipment and related software, or services, unless used exclusively in support of eligible services or equipment;

(vi) Web server hosting;

(vii) website portal development;

(viii) Video/audio/web conferencing equipment or services; and

(ix) Continuous power source.

(2) Costs associated with medical equipment (hardware and software), and other general health care provider expenses are not supported, including the following:

(i) Clinical or medical equipment;

(ii) Telemedicine equipment, applications, and software;

(iii) Training for use of telemedicine equipment;

(iv) Electronic medical records systems; and

(v) Electronic records management and expenses.

(b) Inside wiring/internal connections. Expenses associated with inside wiring or internal connections are ineligible for support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program.

(c) Administrative expenses. Administrative expenses are not eligible for support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program. For purposes of paragraph (c) of this section, ineligible administrative expenses include, but are not limited to, the following expenses:

(1) Personnel costs (including salaries and fringe benefits), except for personnel expenses in a consortium application that directly relate to designing, engineering, installing, constructing, and managing a dedicated broadband network. Ineligible costs of this category include, for example, personnel to perform program management and coordination, program administration, and marketing;

(2) Travel costs, except for travel costs that are reasonable and necessary for network design or deployment and that are specifically identified and justified as part of a competitive bid for a construction project;

(3) Legal costs;

(4) Training, except for basic training or instruction directly related to and required for broadband network installation and associated network operations;

(5) Program administration or technical coordination (e.g., preparing application materials, obtaining letters of agency, preparing requests for proposals, negotiating with service providers, reviewing bids, and working with the Administrator) that involves anything other than the design, engineering, operations, installation, or construction of the network;

(6) Administration and marketing costs (e.g., administrative costs; supplies and materials, except as part of network installation/construction; marketing studies, marketing activities, or outreach to potential network members; and evaluation and feedback studies);

(7) Billing expenses (e.g., expenses that service providers may charge for allocating costs to each health care provider in a network);

(8) Helpdesk expenses (e.g., equipment and related software, or services); and

(9) Technical support services that provide more than basic maintenance.

(d) Cost allocation for ineligible sites, services, or equipment. (1) Ineligible sites. Eligible health care provider sites may share expenses with ineligible sites, as long as the ineligible sites pay their fair share of the expenses. An applicant may seek support for only the portion of a shared eligible expense attributable to eligible health care provider sites. To receive support, the applicant must ensure that ineligible sites pay their fair share of the expense. The fair share is determined as follows:

(i) If the service provider charges a separate and independent price for each site, an ineligible site must pay the full undiscounted price.

(ii) If there is no separate and independent price for each site, the applicant must prorate the undiscounted price for the “shared” service, equipment, or facility between eligible and ineligible sites on a proportional fully-distributed basis. Applicants must make this cost allocation using a method that is based on objective criteria and reasonably reflects the eligible usage of the shared service, equipment, or facility. The applicant bears the burden of demonstrating the reasonableness of the allocation method chosen.

(2) Ineligible components of a single service or piece of equipment. Applicants seeking support for a service or piece of equipment that includes an ineligible component must explicitly request in their requests for proposals that service providers include pricing for a comparable service or piece of equipment that is comprised of only eligible components. If the selected service provider also submits a price for the eligible component on a stand-alone basis, the support amount is calculated based on the stand-alone price of the eligible component. If the service provider does not offer the eligible component on a stand-alone basis, the full price of the entire service or piece of equipment must be taken into account, without regard to the value of the ineligible components, when determining the most cost-effective bid.

(3) Written description. Applicants must submit a written description of their allocation method(s) to the Administrator with their funding requests.

(4) Written agreement. If ineligible entities participate in a network, the allocation method must be memorialized in writing, such as a formal agreement among network members, a master services contract, or for smaller consortia, a letter signed and dated by all (or each) ineligible entity and the Consortium Leader.

§54.618   Data collection and reporting.

(a) Each applicant must file an annual report with the Administrator on or before September 30 for the preceding funding year, with the information and in the form specified by the Wireline Competition Bureau.

(b) Each applicant must file an annual report for each funding year in which it receives support from the Healthcare Connect Fund Program.

(c) For consortia that receive large upfront payments, the reporting requirement extends for the life of the supported facility.

General Provisions

§54.619   Cap.

(a) Amount of the annual cap. The aggregate annual cap on federal universal service support for health care providers shall be $571 million per funding year, of which up to $150 million per funding year will be available to support upfront payments and multi-year commitments under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program.

(1) Inflation increase. In funding year 2018 and subsequent funding years, the $571 million cap on federal universal support in the Rural Health Care Program shall be increased annually to take into account increases in the rate of inflation as calculated in paragraph (a)(2) in this section. In funding year 2020 and subsequent funding years, the $150 million cap on multi-year commitments and upfront payments in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program shall also be increased annually to take into account increases in the rate of inflation as calculated in paragraph (a)(2) in this section.

(2) Increase calculation. To measure increases in the rate of inflation for the purposes of paragraph (a)(1) in this section, the Commission shall use the Gross Domestic Product Chain-type Price Index (GDP-CPI). To compute the annual increase as required by paragraph (a)(1) in this section, the percentage increase in the GDP-CPI from the previous year will be used. For instance, the annual increase in the GDP-CPI from 2017 to 2018 would be used for the 2018 funding year. The increase shall be rounded to the nearest 0.1 percent by rounding 0.05 percent and above to the next higher 0.1 percent. This percentage increase shall be added to the amount of the annual Rural Health Care Program funding cap and the internal cap on multi-year commitments and upfront payments in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program from the previous funding year. If the yearly average GDP-CPI decreases or stays the same, the annual Rural Health Care Program funding cap and the internal cap on multi-year commitments and upfront payments in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program shall remain the same as the previous year.

(3) Public notice. After calculating the annual Rural Health Care Program funding cap and the internal cap on multi-year commitments and upfront payments in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program based on the GDP-CPI, the Wireline Competition Bureau shall publish a public notice in the Federal Register within 60 days announcing any increase of the annual funding cap based on the rate of inflation.

(4) Amount of unused funds. All unused collected funds shall be carried forward into subsequent funding years for use in the Rural Health Care Program in accordance with the public interest and notwithstanding the annual cap. The Administrator, on a quarterly basis, shall report to the Commission on unused Rural Health Care Program funding from prior years.

(5) Application of unused funds. On an annual basis, in the second quarter of each calendar year, all unused collected funds from prior years shall be available for use in the next full funding year of the Rural Health Care Program notwithstanding the annual cap as described in paragraph (a) in this section. The Wireline Competition Bureau, in consultation with the Office of the Managing Director, shall determine the proportion of unused funding for use in the Rural Health Care Program in accordance with the public interest to either satisfy demand notwithstanding the annual cap, reduce collections for the Rural Health Care Program, or to hold in reserve to address contingencies for subsequent funding years. The Wireline Competition Bureau shall direct the Administrator to carry out the necessary actions for the use of available funds consistent with the direction specified in this section.

(b) [Reserved]

§54.620   Annual filing requirements and commitments.

(a) Annual filing requirement. Health care providers seeking support under the RHC Program shall file new funding requests for each funding year consistent with the filing periods established under this subpart, except for health care providers who have received a multi-year funding commitment in this section.

(b) Long-term contracts. If health care providers enter into long-term contracts for eligible services, the Administrator shall only commit funds to cover the portion of such a long-term contract scheduled to be delivered during the funding year for which universal service support is sought, except for multi-year funding commitments as described in this section.

(c) Multi-year commitments under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program. Participants in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program are permitted to enter into multi-year contracts for eligible expenses and may receive funding commitments from the Administrator for a period that covers up to three years of funding. If a long-term contract covers a period of more than three years, the applicant may also have the contract designated as “evergreen” under §54.622(i)(3), which will allow the applicant to re-apply for funding under the contract after three years without having to undergo additional competitive bidding.

§54.621   Filing window for requests and prioritization of support.

(a) Filing window for requests. (1) The Administrator shall open an initial application filing window with an end date no later than 90 days prior to the start of the funding year (i.e., no later than April 1). Prior to announcing the initial opening and closing dates, the Administrator shall seek the approval of the proposed dates from the Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau.

(2) The Administrator, after consultation with the Wireline Competition Bureau, may implement such additional filing periods as it deems necessary. To the extent that the Administrator opens an additional filing period, it shall provide notice and include in that notice or soon thereafter the amount of remaining available funding.

(3) The Administrator shall treat all health care providers filing an application within a filing window period as if their applications were simultaneously received. All funding requests submitted outside of a filing window will not be accepted unless and until the Administrator opens another filing window.

(b) Prioritization of support. The Administrator shall act in accordance with this section when a filing window period for the Telecommunications Program and the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, as described in paragraph (a) in this section, is in effect. When a filing period described in paragraph (a) in this section closes, the Administrator shall calculate the total demand for Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program support submitted by all applicants during the filing window period. If the total demand during the filing window period exceeds the total remaining support available for the funding year, then the Administrator shall distribute the available funds consistent with the following priority schedule:

Table 1 to Paragraph (b)—Prioritization Schedule

Health care provider site is located in:In a medically
underserved
area/population (MUA/P)
Not in MUA/P
Extremely Rural Tier (counties entirely outside of a Core Based Statistical Area)Priority 1Priority 4.
Rural Tier (census tracts within a Core Based Statistical Area that does not have an urban area or urban cluster with a population equal to or greater than 25,000)Priority 2Priority 5.
Less Rural Tier (census tracts within a Core Based Statistical Area with an urban area or urban cluster with a population equal to or greater than 25,000, but where the census tract does not contain any part of an urban area or urban cluster with population equal to or greater than 25,000)Priority 3Priority 6.
Non-Rural Tier (all other non-rural areas)Priority 7Priority 8.

(1) Application of prioritization schedule. The Administrator shall fully fund all eligible requests falling under the first prioritization category before funding requests in the next lower prioritization category. The Administrator shall continue to process all funding requests by prioritization category until there are no available funds remaining. If there is insufficient funding to fully fund all requests in a particular prioritization category, then the Administrator will pro-rate the available funding among all eligible requests in that prioritization category only pursuant to the proration process described in paragraph (b)(2) in this section.

(2) Pro-rata reductions. The Administrator shall act in accordance with this section when a filing window period for the Telecommunications Program and the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, as described in paragraph (a) in this section, is in effect. When a filing window period described in paragraph (a) in this section closes, the Administrator shall calculate the total demand for Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program support submitted by all applicants during the filing window period. If the total demand during a filing window period exceeds the total remaining support available for the funding year, the Administrator shall take the following steps:

(i) The Administrator shall divide the total remaining funds available for the funding year by the demand within the specific prioritization category to produce a pro-rata factor;

(ii) The Administrator shall multiply the pro-rata factor by the total dollar amount requested by each applicant in the prioritization category; and

(iii) The Administrator shall commit funds to each applicant for Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program support consistent with this calculation.

§54.622   Competitive bidding requirements and exemptions.

(a) Competitive bidding requirement. All applicants are required to engage in a competitive bidding process for supported services, facilities, or equipment, as applicable, consistent with the requirements set forth in this section and any additional applicable state, Tribal, local, or other procurement requirements, unless they qualify for an exemption listed in paragraph (j) in this section. In addition, applicants may engage in competitive bidding even if they qualify for an exemption. Applicants who utilize a competitive bidding exemption may proceed directly to filing a funding request as described in §54.623.

(b) Fair and open process. (1) Applicants participating in the Telecommunications Program or Healthcare Connect Fund Program must conduct a fair and open competitive bidding process. The following actions are necessary to satisfy the “fair and open” competitive standard in the Telecommunications Program and the Healthcare Connect Fund Program:

(i) All potential bidders and service providers must have access to the same information and must be treated in the same manner throughout the procurement process.

(ii) Service providers who intend to bid on supported services many not simultaneously help the applicant complete its request for proposal (RFP) or Request for Services form.

(iii) Service providers who have submitted a bid to provide supported services, equipment, or facilities to a health care provider may not simultaneously help the health care provider evaluate submitted bids or choose a winning bid.

(iv) Applicants must respond to all service providers that have submitted questions or proposals during the competitive bidding process.

(v) All applicants and service providers must comply with any applicable state, Tribal, or local procurement laws, in addition to the Commission's competitive bidding requirements. The competitive bidding requirements in this section are not intended to preempt such state, Tribal, or local requirements.

(c) Selecting a cost-effective service. In selecting a provider of eligible services, the applicant shall carefully consider all bids submitted and must select the most cost-effective means of meeting its specific health care needs. “Cost-effective” is defined as the method that costs the least after consideration of the features, quality of transmission, reliability, and other factors that the health care provider deems relevant to choosing a method of providing the required health care services. In the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, when choosing the most “cost-effective” bid, price must be a primary factor, but need not be the only primary factor. A non-price factor may receive an equal weight to price, but may not receive a greater weight than price.

(d) Bid evaluation criteria. Applicants must develop weighted evaluation criteria (e.g., a scoring matrix) that demonstrates how the applicant will choose the most cost-effective bid before submitting its request for services. The applicant must specify on its bid evaluation worksheet and/or scoring matrix the requested services for which it seeks bids, the information provided to bidders to allow bidders to reasonably determine the needs of the applicant, its minimum requirements for the developed weighted evaluation criteria, and each service provider's proposed service levels for the criteria. The applicant must also specify the disqualification factors, if any, that it will use to remove bids or bidders from further consideration. After reviewing the bid submissions and identifying the bids that satisfy the applicant's specific needs, the applicant must then select the service provider that offers the most cost-effective service.

(e) Request for Services. Applicants must submit the following documents to the Administrator in order to initiate competitive bidding:

(1) Request for Services, including certifications. The applicant must submit a Request for Services and make the following certifications as part of its Request for Services:

(i) The health care provider seeking supported services is a public or nonprofit entity that falls within one of the seven categories set forth in the definition of health care provider, listed in §54.600;

(ii) The health care provider seeking supported services is physically located in a rural area as defined in §54.600, or is a member of a Healthcare Connect Fund Program consortium which satisfies the rural health care provider composition requirements set forth in §54.607(b);

(iii) The person signing the application is authorized to submit the application on behalf of the health care provider or consortium applicant;

(iv) The person signing the application has examined the Request for Services and all attachments, and to the best of his or her knowledge, information, and belief, all statements contained in the request are true;

(v) The applicant has complied with any applicable state, Tribal, or local procurement rules;

(vi) All requested Rural Health Care Program support will be used solely for purposes reasonably related to the provision of health care service or instruction that the health care provider is legally authorized to provide under the law of the state in which the services are provided;

(vii) The supported services will not be sold, resold, or transferred in consideration for money or any other thing of value;

(viii) The applicant satisfies all of the requirements under section 254 of the Act and applicable Commission rules; and

(ix) The applicant has reviewed all applicable requirements for the Telecommunications Program or the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, as applicable, and will comply with those requirements.

(2) Aggregated purchase details. If the service or services are being purchased as part of an aggregated purchase with other entities or individuals, the full details of any such arrangement, including the identities of all co-purchasers and the portion of the service or services being purchased by the health care provider, must be submitted.

(3) Bid evaluation criteria. Requirements for bid evaluation criteria are described in paragraph (d) in this section and must be included with the applicant's Request for Services.

(4) Declaration of Assistance. All applicants must submit a “Declaration of Assistance” with their Request for Services. In the Declaration of Assistance, the applicant must identify each and every consultant, service provider, and other outside expert, whether paid or unpaid, who aided in the preparation of its applications. The applicant must also describe the nature of the relationship it has with each consultant, service provider, or other outside expert providing such assistance.

(5) Request for proposal (if applicable). (i) Any applicant may use an RFP. Applicants who use an RFP must submit the RFP and any additional relevant bidding information to the Administrator with its Request for Services.

(ii) An applicant must submit an RFP:

(A) If it is required to issue an RFP under applicable State, Tribal, or local procurement rules or regulations;

(B) If the applicant is a consortium seeking more than $100,000 in program support during the funding year, including applications that seek more than $100,000 in program support for a multi-year commitment; or

(C) If the applicant is a consortium seeking support for participant-constructed and owned network facilities.

(iii) RFP requirements.

(A) An RFP must provide sufficient information to enable an effective competitive bidding process, including describing the health care provider's service needs and defining the scope of the project and network costs (if applicable).

(B) An RFP must specify the time period during which bids will be accepted.

(C) An RFP must include the bid evaluation criteria described in paragraph (d) in this section, and solicit sufficient information so that the criteria can be applied effectively.

(D) Consortium applicants seeking support for long-term capital investments whose useful life extends beyond the time period of the funding commitment (e.g., facilities constructed and owned by the applicant, fiber indefeasible rights of use) must seek bids in the same RFP from service providers who propose to meet those needs via services provided over service provider-owned facilities, for a time period comparable to the life of the proposed capital investment.

(E) Applicants may prepare RFPs in any manner that complies with the rules in this subpart and any applicable state, Tribal, or local procurement rules or regulations.

(6) Additional requirements for Healthcare Connect Fund Program consortium applicants.

(i) Network plan. Consortium applicants must submit a narrative describing specific elements of their network plan with their Request for Services. Consortia applicants are required to use program support for the purposes described in their narrative. The required elements of the narrative include:

(A) Goals and objectives of the network;

(B) Strategy for aggregating the specific needs of health care providers (including providers that serve rural areas) within a state or region;

(C) Strategy for leveraging existing technology to adopt the most efficient and cost-effective means of connecting those providers;

(D) How the supported network will be used to improve or provide health care delivery;

(E) Any previous experience in developing and managing health information technology (including telemedicine) programs; and

(F) A project management plan outlining the project's leadership and management structure, and a work plan, schedule, and budget.

(ii) Letters of agency (LOA). Consortium applicants must submit LOAs pursuant to §54.610.

(f) Public posting by the Administrator. The Administrator shall post on its website the following competitive bidding documents, as applicable:

(1) Request for Services;

(2) Bid evaluation criteria;

(3) RFP; and

(4) Network plans for Healthcare Connect Fund Program applicants.

(g) 28-day waiting period. After posting the documents described in paragraph (f) in this section, as applicable, on its website, the Administrator shall send confirmation of the posting to the applicant. The applicant shall wait at least 28 days from the date on which its competitive bidding documents are posted on the Administrator's website before selecting and committing to a service provider. The confirmation from the Administrator shall include the date after which the applicant may sign a contract with its chosen service provider(s).

(1) Selection of the most “cost-effective” bid and contract negotiation. Each applicant is required to certify to the Administrator that the selected bid is, to the best of the applicant's knowledge, the most cost-effective option available. Applicants are required to submit the documentation, identified in §54.623, to support their certifications.

(2) Applicants who plan to request evergreen status under this section must enter into a contract that identifies both parties, is signed and dated by the health care provider or Consortium Leader after the 28-day waiting period expires, and specifies the type, term, and cost of service(s).

(h) Gift restrictions. (1) Subject to paragraphs (h)(3) and (4) in this section, an eligible health care provider or consortium that includes eligible health care providers, may not directly or indirectly solicit or accept any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan, or any other thing of value from a service provider participating in or seeking to participate in the Rural Health Care Program. No such service provider shall offer or provide any such gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan, or other thing of value except as otherwise provided in this section. Modest refreshments not offered as part of a meal, items with little intrinsic value intended solely for presentation, and items worth $20 or less, including meals, may be offered or provided, and accepted by any individual or entity subject to this rule, if the value of these items received by any individual does not exceed $50 from any one service provider per funding year. The $50 amount for any service provider shall be calculated as the aggregate value of all gifts provided during a funding year by the individuals specified in paragraph (h)(2)(ii) in this section.

(2) For purposes of this paragraph:

(i) The terms “health care provider” or “consortium” shall include all individuals who are on the governing boards of such entities and all employees, officers, representatives, agents, consultants, or independent contractors of such entities involved on behalf of such health care provider or consortium with the Rural Health Care Program, including individuals who prepare, approve, sign, or submit Rural Health Care Program applications, or other forms related to the Rural Health Care Program, or who prepare bids, communicate, or work with Rural Health Care Program service providers, consultants, or with the Administrator, as well as any staff of such entities responsible for monitoring compliance with the Rural Health Care Program; and

(ii) The term “service provider” includes all individuals who are on the governing boards of such an entity (such as members of the board of directors), and all employees, officers, representatives, agents, consultants, or independent contractors of such entities.

(3) The restrictions set forth in this paragraph shall not be applicable to the provision of any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan, or any other thing of value, to the extent given to a family member or a friend working for an eligible health care provider or consortium that includes eligible health care providers, provided that such transactions:

(i) Are motivated solely by a personal relationship;

(ii) Are not rooted in any service provider business activities or any other business relationship with any such eligible health care provider; and

(iii) Are provided using only the donor's personal funds that will not be reimbursed through any employment or business relationship.

(4) Any service provider may make charitable donations to an eligible health care provider or consortium that includes eligible health care providers in the support of its programs as long as such contributions are not directly or indirectly related to the Rural Health Care Program procurement activities or decisions and are not given by service providers to circumvent competitive bidding and other Rural Health Care Program rules, including those in §54.611(a), requiring health care providers under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program to contribute 35 percent of the total cost of all eligible expenses.

(i) Exemptions to the competitive bidding requirements—(1) Government Master Service Agreement (MSA). Eligible health care providers that seek support for services and equipment purchased from MSAs negotiated by federal, state, Tribal, or local government entities on behalf of such health care providers and others, if such MSAs were awarded pursuant to applicable federal, state, Tribal, or local competitive bidding requirements, are exempt from the competitive bidding requirements under this section.

(2) Master Service Agreements approved under the Rural Health Care Pilot Program or Healthcare Connect Fund Program. An eligible health care provider site may opt into an existing MSA approved under the Rural Health Care Pilot Program or Healthcare Connect Fund Program and seek support for services and equipment purchased from the MSA without triggering the competitive bidding requirements under this section, if the MSA was developed and negotiated in response to an RFP that specifically solicited proposals that included a mechanism for adding additional sites to the MSA.

(3) Evergreen contracts. (i) The Administrator may designate a multi-year contract as “evergreen,” which means that the service(s) covered by the contract need not be re-bid during the contract term.

(ii) A contract entered into by a health care provider or consortium as a result of competitive bidding may be designated as evergreen if it meets all of the following requirements:

(A) Is signed by the individual health care provider or consortium lead entity;

(B) Specifies the service type, bandwidth, and quantity;

(C) Specifies the term of the contract;

(D) Specifies the cost of services to be provided; and

(E) Includes the physical location or other identifying information of the health care provider sites purchasing from the contract.

(iii) Participants may exercise voluntary options to extend an evergreen contract without undergoing additional competitive bidding if:

(A) The voluntary extension(s) is memorialized in the evergreen contract;

(B) The decision to extend the contract occurs before the participant files its funding request for the funding year when the contract would otherwise expire; and

(C) The voluntary extension(s) do not exceed five years in the aggregate.

(4) Schools and libraries program master contracts. Subject to the provisions in §54.500, §54.501(c)(1), and §54.503, an eligible health care provider in a consortium with participants in the schools and libraries universal service support program and a party to the consortium's existing contract is exempt from the competitive bidding requirements if the contract was approved in the schools and libraries universal service support program as a master contract. The health care provider must comply with all Rural Health Care Program rules and procedures except for those applicable to competitive bidding.

(5) Annual undiscounted cost of $10,000 or less. An applicant under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program that seeks support for $10,000 or less of total undiscounted eligible expenses for a single year is exempt from the competitive bidding requirements under this section, if the term of the contract is one year or less. This exemption does not apply to applicants under the Telecommunications Program.

Effective Date Note: At 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, §54.622 was revised. However, 54.622(d), (e)(2), (e)(4) and (e)(5) contain information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.623   Funding requests.

(a) Once a service provider is selected, applicants must submit a Request for Funding (and supporting documentation) to provide information about the services, equipment, or facilities selected; rates, service provider(s); and date(s) of service provider selection, as applicable.

(1) Certifications. The applicant must provide the following certifications as part of its Request for Funding:

(i) The person signing the application is authorized to submit the application on behalf of the health care provider or consortium.

(ii) The applicant has examined the form and all attachments, and to the best of his or her knowledge, information, and belief, all statements of fact contained in this section are true.

(iii) The health care provider or consortium has considered all bids received and selected the most cost-effective method of providing the requested services.

(iv) All Rural Health Care Program support will be used only for eligible health care purposes.

(v) The health care provider or consortium is not requesting support for the same service from both the Telecommunications Program and the Healthcare Connect Fund Program.

(vi) The health care provider or consortium and/or its consultant, if applicable, has not solicited or accepted a gift or any other thing of value from a service provider participating in or seeking to participate in the Rural Health Care Program.

(vii) The applicant satisfies all of the requirements under section 254 of the Act and applicable Commission rules and understands that any letter from the Administrator that erroneously commits funds for the benefit of the applicant may be subject to rescission.

(viii) The applicant has reviewed all applicable rules and requirements for the Rural Health Care Program and will comply with those rules and requirements.

(ix) The applicant will retain all documentation associated with the applications, including all bids, contracts, scoring matrices, and other information associated with the competitive bidding process, and all billing records for services received, for a period of at least five years.

(x) The consultants or third parties hired by the applicant do not have an ownership interest, sales commission arrangement, or other financial stake in the service provider chosen to provide the requested services, and that they have otherwise complied with the Rural Health Care Program rules, including the Commission's rules requiring a fair and open competitive bidding process.

(xi) Additional certification for the Telecom Program. Telecom Program applicants must certify that the rural rate on their Request for Funding does not exceed the appropriate rural rate determined by the Administrator.

(2) Contracts or other documentation. All applicants must submit a contract or other documentation, as applicable, that clearly identifies the service provider(s) selected and the health care provider(s) who will receive the services; costs for which support is being requested; and the term of the service agreement(s) if applicable (i.e., if services are not being provided on a month-to-month basis). For services provided under contract, the applicant must submit a copy of the contract signed and dated (after the Allowable Contract Selection Date) by the individual health care provider or Consortium Leader. If the services are not being provided under contract, the applicant must submit a bill, service offer, letter, or similar document from the service provider that provides the required information.

(3) Competitive bidding documents. Applicants must submit documentation to support their certifications that they have selected the most cost-effective option, including a copy of each bid received (winning, losing, and disqualified), the bid evaluation criteria, and the following documents (as applicable): Completed bid evaluation worksheets or matrices; explanation for any disqualified bids; a list of people who evaluated bids (along with their title/role/relationship to the applicant organization); memos, board minutes, or similar documents related to the service provider selection/award; copies of notices to winners; and any correspondence with service providers prior to and during the bidding, evaluation, and award phase of the process. Applicants who claim a competitive bidding exemption must submit relevant documentation to allow the Administrator to verify that the applicant is eligible for the claimed exemption.

(4) Cost allocation for ineligible entities or components. Where applicable, applicants must submit a description of how costs will be allocated for ineligible entities or components, as well as any agreements that memorialize such arrangements with ineligible entities.

(5) Additional documentation for Healthcare Connect Fund Program consortium applicants. A consortium applicant must also submit the following:

(i) Any revisions to the network plan submitted with the Request for Services pursuant to §54.622, as necessary. If not previously submitted, the consortium should provide a narrative description of how the network will be managed, including all administrative aspects of the network, including, but not limited to, invoicing, contractual matters, and network operations. If the consortium is required to provide a sustainability plan as set forth in the following, the revised budget should include the budgetary factors discussed in the sustainability plan requirements.

(ii) A list of each participating health care provider and all of their relevant information, including eligible (and ineligible, if applicable) cost information.

(iii) Evidence of a viable source for the undiscounted portion of supported costs.

(iv) Sustainability plans for applicants requesting support for long-term capital expenses: Consortia that seek funding to construct and own their own facilities or obtain indefeasible right of use or capital lease interests are required to submit a sustainability plan with their funding requests demonstrating how they intend to maintain and operate the facilities that are supported over the relevant time period. Applicants may include by reference other portions of their applications (e.g., project management plan, budget). The sustainability plan must, at a minimum, address the following points:

(A) Projected sustainability period. Indicate the sustainability period, which at a minimum is equal to the useful life of the funded facility. The consortium's budget must show projected income and expenses (i.e., for maintenance) for the project at the aggregate level, for the sustainability period.

(B) Principal factors. Discuss each of the principal factors that were considered by the participant to demonstrate sustainability. This discussion must include all factors that show that the proposed network will be sustainable for the entire sustainability period. Any factor that will have a monetary impact on the network must be reflected in the applicant's budget.

(C) Terms of membership in the network. Describe generally any agreements made (or to be entered into) by network members (e.g., participation agreements, memoranda of understanding, usage agreements, or other similar agreements). The sustainability plan must also describe, as applicable:

(1) Financial and time commitments made by proposed members of the network;

(2) If the project includes excess bandwidth for growth of the network, describe how such excess bandwidth will be financed; and

(3) If the network will include ineligible health care providers and other network members, describe how fees for joining and using the network will be assessed.

(D) Ownership structure. Explain who will own each material element of the network (e.g., fiber constructed, network equipment, end user equipment). For purposes of this subsection, “ownership” includes an indefeasible right of use interest. Applicants must clearly identify the legal entity that will own each material element. Applicants must also describe any arrangements made to ensure continued use of such elements by the network members for the duration of the sustainability period.

(E) Sources of future support. Describe other sources of future funding, including fees to be paid by eligible health care providers and/or non-eligible entities.

(F) Management. Describe the management structure of the network for the duration of the sustainability period. The applicant's budget must describe how management costs will be funded.

(v) Material change to sustainability plan. A consortium that is required to file a sustainability plan must maintain its accuracy. If there is a material change to a required sustainability plan that would impact projected income or expenses by more than 20 percent or $100,000 from the previous submission, or if the applicant submits a funding request based on a new Request for Funding (i.e., a new competitively bid contract), the consortium is required to re-file its sustainability plan. In the event of a material change, the applicant must provide the Administrator with the revised sustainability plan no later than the end of the relevant quarter, clearly showing (i.e., by redlining or highlighting) what has changed.

Effective Date Note: At 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, §54.623 was revised. Sections 54.623(a)(2), (a)(3) and (a)(4) contain information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.624   Site and service substitutions.

(a) Health care providers or Consortium Leaders may request a site or service substitution if:

(1) The substitution is provided for in the contract, within the change clause, or constitutes a minor modification;

(2) The site is an eligible health care provider and the service is an eligible service under the Telecommunications Program or the Healthcare Connect Fund Program;

(3) The substitution does not violate any contract provision or state, Tribal, or local procurement laws; and

(4) The requested change is within the scope of the controlling Request for Services, including any applicable RFP used in the competitive bidding process.

(b) Filing deadline. An applicant must file their request for a site or service change to the Administrator no later than the service delivery deadline as defined in §54.626.

Effective Date Note: At 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, §54.624 was revised. This section contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.625   Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) changes.

(a) Corrective SPIN change. A “corrective SPIN change” is any amendment to the SPIN associated with a Funding Request Number that does not involve a change to the service provider associated with that Funding Request Number. An applicant under the Telecommunications Program or the Healthcare Connect Fund Program may file a request for a corrective SPIN change with the Administrator to:

(1) Correct ministerial errors;

(2) Update the service provider's SPIN that resulted from a merger or acquisition of companies; or

(3) Effectuate a change to the SPIN that does not involve a change to the service provider of a funding request and was not initiated by the applicant.

(b) Operational SPIN Change. An “operational SPIN change” is any change to the service provider associated with a Funding Request Number. An applicant under the Telecommunications Program or the Healthcare Connect Fund Program may file a request for an operational SPIN change with the Administrator if:

(1) The applicant has a legitimate reason to change providers (e.g., breach of contract or the service provider is unable to perform); and

(2) The applicant's newly selected service provider received the next highest point value in the original bid evaluation, assuming there were multiple bidders.

(c) Filing deadline. An applicant must file their request for a corrective or operational SPIN change with the Administrator no later than the service delivery deadline as defined by §54.626.

§54.626   Service delivery deadline and extension requests.

(a) Service delivery deadline. Except as provided in the following, applicants must use all recurring and non-recurring services for which Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program funding has been approved by June 30 of the funding year for which the program support was sought. The Administrator will deem ineligible for Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program support all charges incurred for services delivered before or after the close of the funding year.

(b) Deadline extension for non-recurring services. An applicant may request and receive from the Administrator a one-year extension of the implementation deadline for non-recurring services if it satisfies one of the following criteria:

(1) Applicants whose funding commitment letters are issued by the Administrator on or after March 1 of the funding year for which discounts are authorized;

(2) Applicants that receive service provider change authorizations or site and service authorizations from the Administrator on or after March 1 of the funding year for which discounts are authorized;

Note 1 to paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2): The Administrator shall automatically extend the service delivery deadline for applicants who satisfy paragraphs (b)(1) or (2) in this section. When calculating the extended deadline, March 1 is the key date for determining whether to extend the service delivery deadline. If one of the conditions listed in paragraph (b) in this section is satisfied before March 1 (of any year), the deadline will not be extended and the applicant will have until June 30 of that calendar year to complete implementation. If one of the conditions under paragraph (b)(1) through (2) in this section is satisfied on or after March 1 the calendar year, the applicant will have until June 30 of the following calendar year to complete implementation.

(3) Applicants whose service providers are unable to complete implementation for reasons beyond the service provider's control; or

Note 1 to paragraph (b)(3): An applicant seeking a one-year extension must affirmatively request an extension on or before the June 30 deadline for paragraph (b)(3) in this section. The Administrator will address any situations arising under paragraph (b)(3) in this section on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must submit documentation to the Administrator requesting relief pursuant to paragraph (b)(3) in this section on or before June 30 of the relevant funding year. That documentation must include, at a minimum, an explanation regarding the circumstances that make it impossible for installation to be completed by June 30 and a certification by the applicant that, to the best of their knowledge, the request is truthful.

(4) Applicants whose service providers are unwilling to complete delivery and installation because the applicant's funding request is under review by the Administrator for program compliance.

Note 1 to Paragraph (b)(4): An applicant seeking a one-year extension must affirmatively request an extension on or before the June 30 deadline for paragraph (b)(4) in this section. Applicants seeking an extension under paragraph (b)(4) in this section must certify to the Administrator that their service provider was unwilling to deliver or install the non-recurring services before the end of the funding year. Applicants must make this certification on or before June 30 of the relevant funding year. The revised implementation date will be calculated based on the date the Administrator issues a funding commitment.

Effective Date Note: At 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, §54.626 was revised. Section 54.626(b) contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.627   Invoicing process and certifications.

(a) Invoice filing deadline. Invoices must be submitted to the Administrator within 120 days after the later of:

(1) The service delivery deadline, as defined in §54.626; or

(2) The date of a revised funding commitment letter issued pursuant to an approved post-commitment request made by the applicant or service provider or a successful appeal of a previously denied or reduced funding request. Before the Administrator may process and pay an invoice, it must receive a completed invoice from the service provider.

(b) Invoice deadline extension. Service providers or billed entities may request a one-time extension of the invoicing deadline by no later than the deadline calculated pursuant to paragraph (a) in this section. The Administrator shall grant a 120-day extension of the invoice filing deadline, if it is timely requested.

(c) Telecommunications Program. (1) The applicant must submit documentation to the Administrator confirming the service start date, the service end or disconnect date, or whether the service was never turned on.

(2) Upon receipt of the invoice(s) and supporting documentation, the Administrator shall generate a Health Care Provider Support Schedule (HSS), which the service provider shall use to determine how much credit the applicant will receive for the services.

(3) Certifications. Before the Administrator may process and pay an invoice, both the health care provider and the service provider must make the following certifications.

(i) The health care provider must certify that:

(A) The service has been or is being provided to the health care provider;

(B) The universal service credit will be applied to the telecommunications service billing account of the health care provider or the billed entity as directed by the health care provider;

(C) It is authorized to submit this request on behalf of the health care provider;

(D) It has examined the invoice and supporting documentation and that to the best of its knowledge, information and belief, all statements of fact contained in the invoice and supporting documentation are true;

(E) It or the consortium it represents satisfies all of the requirements and will abide by all of the relevant requirements, including all applicable Commission rules, with respect to universal service benefits provided under 47 U.S.C. 254; and

(F) It understands that any letter from the Administrator that erroneously states that funds will be made available for the benefit of the applicant may be subject to rescission.

(ii) The service provider must certify that:

(A) The information contained in the invoice is correct and the health care providers and the Billed Account Numbers have been credited with the amounts shown under “Support Amount to be Paid by USAC;”

(B) It has abided by all of the relevant requirements, including all applicable Commission rules;

(C) It has received and reviewed the HSS, invoice form and accompanying documentation, and that the rates charged for the telecommunications services, to the best of its knowledge, information and belief, are accurate and comply with the Commission's rules;

(D) It is authorized to submit the invoice;

(E) The health care provider paid the appropriate urban rate for the telecommunications services;

(F) The rural rate on the invoice does not exceed the appropriate rural rate determined by the Administrator;

(G) It has charged the health care provider for only eligible services prior to submitting the invoice for payment and accompanying documentation;

(H) It has not offered or provided a gift or any other thing of value to the applicant (or to the applicant's personnel, including its consultant) for which it will provide services; and

(I) The consultants or third parties it has hired do not have an ownership interest, sales commission arrangement, or other financial stake in the service provider chosen to provide the requested services, and that they have otherwise complied with Rural Health Care Program rules, including the Commission's rules requiring fair and open competitive bidding.

(J) As a condition of receiving support, it will provide to the health care providers, on a timely basis, all documents regarding supported equipment or services that are necessary for the health care provider to submit required forms or respond to Commission or Administrator inquiries.

(d) Healthcare Connect Fund Program. (1) Certifications. Before the Administrator may process and pay an invoice, the Consortium Leader (or health care provider, if participating individually) and the service provider must make the following certifications:

(i) The Consortium Leader or health care provider must certify that:

(A) It is authorized to submit this request on behalf of the health care provider or consortium;

(B) It has examined the invoice form and attachments and, to the best of its knowledge, information, and belief, all information contained on the invoice form and attachments are true and correct;

(C) The health care provider or consortium members have received the related services, network equipment, and/or facilities itemized on the invoice form; and

(D) The required 35 percent minimum contribution for each item on the invoice form was funded by eligible sources as defined in the Commission's rules and that the required contribution was remitted to the service provider.

(ii) The service provider must certify that:

(A) It has been authorized to submit this request on behalf of the service provider;

(B) It has applied the amount submitted, approved, and paid by the Administrator to the billing account of the health care provider(s) and Funding Request Number (FRN)/FRN ID listed on the invoice;

(C) It has examined the invoice form and attachments and that, to the best of its knowledge, information, and belief, the date, quantities, and costs provided in the invoice form and attachments are true and correct;

(D) It has abided by all program requirements, including all applicable Commission rules and orders;

(E) It has charged the health care provider for only eligible services prior to submitting the invoice form and accompanying documentation;

(F) It has not offered or provided a gift or any other thing of value to the applicant (or to the applicant's personnel, including its consultant) for which it will provide services;

(G) The consultants or third parties it has hired do not have an ownership interest, sales commission arrangement, or other financial stake in the service provider chosen to provide the requested services, and that they have otherwise complied with Rural Health Care Program rules, including the Commission's rules requiring fair and open competitive bidding; and

(H) As a condition of receiving support, it will provide to the health care providers, on a timely basis, all documents regarding supported equipment, facilities, or services that are necessary for the health care provider to submit required forms or respond to Commission or Administrator inquiries.

Effective Date Note: At 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, §54.627 was revised. Section 54.627 (b) contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.628   Duplicate support.

(a) Eligible health care providers that seek support under the Healthcare Connect Fund Program for telecommunications services may not also request support from the Telecommunications Program for the same services.

(b) Eligible health care providers that seek support under the Telecommunications Program or the Healthcare Connect Fund Program may not also request support from any other universal service program for the same expenses.

§54.629   Prohibition on resale.

(a) Prohibition on resale. Services purchased pursuant to universal support mechanisms under this subpart shall not be sold, resold, or transferred in consideration for money or any other thing of value.

(b) Permissible fees. The prohibition on resale set forth in paragraph (a) in this section shall not prohibit a health care provider from charging normal fees for health care services, including instruction related to services purchased with support provided under this subpart.

§54.630   Election to offset support against annual universal service fund contribution.

(a) A service provider that contributes to the universal service support mechanisms under this subpart and subpart H of this part to eligible health care providers may, at the election of the contributor:

(1) Treat the amount eligible for support under this subpart as an offset against the contributor's universal service support obligation for the year in which the costs for providing eligible services were incurred; or

(2) Receive direct reimbursement from the Administrator for that amount.

(b) Service providers that are contributors shall elect in January of each year the method by which they will be reimbursed and shall remain subject to that method for the duration of the calendar year. Any support amount that is owed a service provider that fails to remit its monthly universal service contribution obligation shall first be applied as an offset to that contributor's contribution obligation. Such a service provider shall remain subject to the offsetting method for the remainder of the calendar year in which it failed to remit its monthly universal service obligation. A service provider that continues to be in arrears on its universal service contribution obligations at the end of a calendar year shall remain subject to the offsetting method for the next calendar year.

(c) If a service provider providing services eligible for support under this subpart elects to treat that support amount as an offset against its universal service contribution obligation and the total amount of support owed exceeds its universal service obligation, calculated on an annual basis, the service provider shall receive a direct reimbursement in the amount of the difference. Any such reimbursement due a service provider shall be provided by the Administrator no later than the end of the first quarter of the calendar year following the year in which the costs were incurred and the offset against the contributor's universal service obligation was applied.

§54.631   Audits and recordkeeping.

(a) Random audits. All participants under the Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program shall be subject to random compliance audits to ensure compliance with program rules and orders.

(b) Recordkeeping. Participants, including Consortium Leaders and health care providers, shall maintain records to document compliance with program rules and orders for at least five years after the last day of service delivered in a particular funding year sufficient to establish compliance with all rules in this subpart.

(1) Telecommunications Program. (i) Participants must maintain, among other things, records of allocations for consortia and entities that engage in eligible and ineligible activities, if applicable.

(ii) Mobile rural health care providers shall maintain annual logs for a period of five years. Mobile rural health care providers shall maintain annual logs indicating: The date and locations of each clinical stop; and the number of patients served at each clinical stop. Mobile rural health care providers shall make their logs available to the Administrator and the Commission upon request.

(iii) Service providers shall retain documents related to the delivery of discounted services for at least five years after the last day of the delivery of discounted services. Any other document that demonstrates compliance with the statutory or regulatory requirements for the rural health care mechanism shall be retained as well.

(2) Healthcare Connect Fund Program. (i) Participants who receive support for long-term capital investments in facilities whose useful life extends beyond the period of the funding commitment shall maintain records for at least five years after the end of the useful life of the facility. Participants shall maintain asset and inventory records of supported network equipment to verify the actual location of such equipment for a period of five years after purchase.

(ii) Service providers shall retain records related to the delivery of supported services, facilities, or equipment to document compliance with the Commission rules or orders pertaining to the Healthcare Connect Fund Program for at least five years after the last day of the delivery of supported services, equipment, or facilities in a particular funding year.

(c) Production of records. Both participants and service providers under the Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program shall produce such records at the request of the Commission, any auditor appointed by the Administrator or Commission, or any other state or federal agency with jurisdiction.

(d) Obligation of service providers. Service providers in the Telecommunications Program and Healthcare Connect Fund Program must certify, as a condition of receiving support, that they will provide to health care providers, on a timely basis, all information and documents regarding supported equipment, facilities, or services that are necessary for the health care provider to submit required forms or respond to Commission or Administrator inquiries. The Administrator may withhold disbursements for the service provider if the service provider, after written notice from the Administrator, fails to comply with this requirement.

Effective Date Note: At 84 FR 54979, Oct. 11, 2019, §54.631 was revised. Section 54.631(d) contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.632   Signature requirements for certifications.

(a) For individual health care provider applicants, required certifications must be provided and signed by an officer or director of the health care provider, or other authorized employee of the health care provider.

(b) For consortium applicants, an officer, director, or other authorized employee of the Consortium Leader must sign the required certifications.

(c) Pursuant to §54.633, electronic signatures are permitted for all required certifications.

§54.633   Validity of electronic signatures and records.

(a) For the purposes of this subpart, an electronic signature (defined by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, as an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record) has the same legal effect as a written signature.

(b) For the purposes of this subpart, an electronic record (defined by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, as a contract or other record created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means) constitutes a record.

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