If you regularly keep up to date with news, you may have seen headlines addressing the new rule that was recently published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This new rule repeals the net neutrality rules that were set in place in 2015 by the Open Internet Order.
What is net neutrality?
In 2015, the FCC enacted the Open Internet Order, which included a set of net neutrality rules. These net neutrality rules classified the internet as a utility-like-tool, which is the same classification given to phone lines. These net neutrality rules were set to regulate internet service providers (ISPs), and to keep them from participating in discriminatory practices, such as blocking, filtering, offering paid prioritization, placing fees on various aspects of internet access, or slowing down certain content. Essentially, the idea behind net neutrality is to keep the internet and the companies that provide it neutral so that both speed and reliability of the internet remain unaffected based on content accessed by customers.
Current happenings regarding net neutrality:
On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted to repeal the Open Internet Order with a 3-2 vote. Recently, the repeal was published, and the new rules are set to commence on April 23rd of this year. This means that Congress has a 60-day window to invalidate the repeal with the Congressional Review Act.
If the repeal goes through, the following changes to net neutrality will occur:
- The internet will be categorized as an information service.
- ISPs will have more control over their services and how they provide these services.
- ISPs will have the ability to block, filter, slow down or speed up certain websites, place fees on various aspects of the internet, and offer paid prioritization services.
- ISPs will be required to be transparent about content blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, but this will be monitored per customer complaints. In other words, customers can report to the FCC if they have a concern that their ISP is blocking, throttling, or filtering content without offering transparency, and then the FCC can follow up on the complaints.
- ISPs can offer fast lanes, but also have the ability to charge higher fees for these services.
How the repeal could affect healthcare:
There are differing opinions on how the net neutrality repeal will affect healthcare, but many individuals, organizations, and companies are concerned that the new rules could have a negative effect on healthcare due to advances in telemedicine and other health care programs that rely heavily on quality, cost-effective internet. This concern is particularly for rural healthcare organizations that have few (many only having one) choices for internet providers. Since many healthcare organizations in rural areas are smaller, available resources and funds are already limited; therefore, changes in internet services would greatly affect these healthcare facilities.
The repeal of net neutrality rules could have numerous effects on healthcare, specifically related to costs. Those for the repeal of net neutrality rules suggest that healthcare would benefit because ISPs would have the ability to offer prioritization of content and websites. This could mean that ISPs would have the ability to create fast lanes for health-related information and websites.
Despite ISPs having the ability to offer content prioritization and fast lanes, many individuals fear that this service would come at a steep cost, one that most or all healthcare facilities and organizations would not be able to reach. Larger healthcare facilities may have the resources to fund fast lanes or quality internet services, but smaller healthcare facilities would likely not be able to compete. Healthcare facilities and programs that are unable to pay for quality internet services would suffer from slower connection, decreased connectivity, and lack of accessibility. Higher costs and prices could limit availability and use of healthcare services for patients, especially in rural areas.
- Accessibility to health records and health information
In today’s age of healthcare, most health records are kept and stored electronically. Both cloud storage and fast, reliable internet are crucial for electronic health records. The possibility of healthcare organizations lacking the ability to afford efficient internet services could result in life-threatening situations. Patients rely on speedy internet connections to obtain lab test results, health information, and quality healthcare. Also, if ISPs are able to block and filter content, there is a risk of healthcare information being subjected to these activities. This interruption of communication would cause numerous problems to the efficiency and quality of patient care.
The repeal of net neutrality rules could have numerous effects on telemedicine, as well as future advances of telemedicine. Individuals in favor of the repeal suggest that the removal of net neutrality rules will allow for greater competition, innovation, and services available for customers. This innovation could carry over to telemedicine and allow for increased availability and prioritization of remote healthcare services.
Unfortunately, if remote healthcare services come at a greater cost, healthcare organizations may be forced to decrease or cut telemedicine programs and services. This could also affect continued innovation in AI and other telemedicine devices and services. A decrease in telemedicine services would especially affect rural communities that rely on remote medical services to connect patients to physicians.
- Internet of Things
The Internet of Things includes a wide variety of devices that are connected to the internet such as the Fitbit. Healthcare is moving toward utilizing internet connected devices, trackers, sensors, and apps because they encourage a healthy environment with a free-flow of health information. A change in internet services for customers could dramatically affect use of these devices, causing an impact on many individual’s healthcare experience.
If ISPs get the choice to prioritize internet traffic, then they may prioritize traffic from companies they control and limit or block access to the competitors of those services. For example, Time Warner owns HBO and HBO competes with other premium television services. This creates an obvious benefit for Time Warner to allow fast access to HBO and slow down or block access to Starz, Showtime, etc. The number of the conflict by Internet Service Providers is stunningly vast and could show up in every business sector, including healthcare.
- Small Business/Startups
If the Net Neutrality repeal is allowed to stand, it could have a major impact on new startups and small businesses. Right now, even the smallest business is on a level playing field on the internet. However, with the net neutrality repeal, that would certainly change. These organizations would likely not be able to afford the same privileged access as their larger competitors and therefore they would stand less of a chance. These are companies that may have a better idea, be more cost-effective, or just provide a better service. If they are pushed out, it may mean higher costs and poorer service for all companies needing their service, including those in healthcare.
This change in internet regulation, if allowed to stand, has the potential to affect most businesses in the United States, along with additional concerns for the healthcare sector. If you have questions on how the net neutrality repeal could affect your business or healthcare facility, feel free to contact us for more information. We are here to help!