Net Neu­tral­ity Demise Wor­ries Providers

Health Data Management - - WASHINGTON REPORT - —Fred Baz­zoli

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.

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