The FCC and Windstream Communications have agreed to a $1.2 million settlement for the carrier’s alleged violation of Rural Health Care Program (RHC) rules. The settlement includes a $200,000 civil penalty.
The program provides financial support to eligible rural health care providers so that they can implement modern communications systems considered vital for providing state-of-the-art medical care. The Universal Service Fund (USF) pays for the RHC Program’s Telecommunications Program.
The FCC’s investigation discovered that the carrier didn’t use any of the three rate-setting methods available to service providers under FCC rules. Instead, Windstream used proprietary methods to determine rates and prepare bids for Universal Service Fund (USF) monetary requests. The carrier was not able to provide the regulator with sufficient documentation to show the process it did use in its rate setting, the FCC said.
As a result of these violations, the carrier received more than $1 million in improper payments from the USF in the 2017-2020 funding years, according to the FCC investigation. Under the consent decree, the company must repay that entire amount to the USF.
“To facilitate the proper distribution of funds for these limited and invaluable resources, we vigorously pursue violations of the Commission’s Rural Health Care rules to ensure that funds designated for rural areas and health care providers are available to program participants with no entity receiving an improper or disproportionate share,” said Loyaan A. Egal, acting FCC Enforcement Bureau chief, in a prepared statement about the Windstream FCC rural health care settlement.
Nearly two years ago the FCC reformed the competitive bidding process for the RHC program with the goal of making it a more productive mechanism for health care providers to find cost-effective services.