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Nov. 18 — The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill without amendment to allow rural nursing facilities to receive Universal Service funds.
The Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015 (S. 1916) was introduced by committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) on Aug. 3. Approving the bill “is the first step to ensuring rural skilled nursing facilities have the communications networks needed” to care for their patients, Thune said before the Nov. 18 vote.
Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) co-sponsored the bill.
The bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to allow skilled nursing facilities to request services from telecommunications carriers through the USF to receive telecom services at comparable rates to those charged for similar services in less-costly urban areas.
The committee also approved a bill directing the Federal Communications Commission to extend to private land use restrictions its rule on reasonable accommodation of amateur radio.
Ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) did not approve the Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015 (S. 1685). Nelson said the bill went “a step too far” by allowing the committee to override home owners association (HOA) agreements that would allow an individual to install an antenna on their property even if an HOA doesn't allow them.
“It would effectively repeal parts of millions of private contracts and agreements relied upon by homeowners around the country,” Nelson said. He added that he supported amateur radio, “but there's got to be a happy compromise here.”
The bill was introduced June 25 by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Ala.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.). A related bill (H.R. 1301) was introduced in the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) on March 4. It has yet to be reported out of committee.
The committee also approved Thune's Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 (S. 2044).
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