Net Neutrality Demise Worries Providers
IN A STRICT PARTY LINE VOTE, THE FEDERAL Communications Commission chose to roll back regulations that uphold net neutrality. Some healthcare organizations are concerned that the move could have downstream implications for providers, particularly those located in and serving rural areas.
The five-member FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to eliminate its 2015 Title II Order that requires net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers must allow equal access to web content, regardless of the source. Proponents of removing the rules contend that the move will unfetter competition and thus boost economic growth.
However, critics—among them hospital organizations—contend that the move will set the stage for cable TV-like tiers of services that would force consumers to pay more for services. This may be particularly true in rural areas, where there is often little or no competition among Internet service providers.
Some say the FCC vote could prompt federal legislative action to reinstitute net equality, and New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a statement saying his office will take legal action to block the rollback of net neutrality regulations.
Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Trump, has framed the repeal as getting the government to “stop micromanaging the Internet” and has stated that the move could benefit technology companies and could encourage technologies that support telemedicine and add bandwidth to underserved areas, enabling hospitals to have “fast lanes” of service that could improve Internet speeds.
However, many healthcare organizations have long opposed the removal of net neutrality regulations and voiced concern over the impact of the FCC vote.
The National Rural Health Association has long opposed the rollback of net neutrality provisions, fearing that the elimination of the rules could have negative effects on bandwidth for rural healthcare facilities, and will hurt efforts to provide telemedicine and telehealth services to residents in their service areas.
“NRHA supports broadband policies that acknowledge high-speed online access as a necessity, not a luxury. All communities deserve a chance to participate in our digital future,” the group affirmed.
Potential negative effects on Internet services comes at the wrong time for rural areas, where residents are victims disproportionately of deaths from certain chronic diseases and opioid addiction, says Tom Morris, associate administrator for rural health at the Health Resources and Services Administration.