The Federal Communications Commission embraced broad net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote Thursday that ensures health technology startups and telehealth companies won't face higher costs for Internet fast lanes.
The FCC rules essentially reclassify the Internet as a public utility and will force network carriers to treat all internet traffic equally, prohibiting them from charging extra for faster service or selectively slowing down certain types of traffic. The regulations may prove critical for the burgeoning digital health sector that relies on moving large quantities of data and conducting more and more services over the Internet.
The rules appear to be broader than initially expected, although the final rules will not be available for some time, according to an FCC spokeswoman. FCC commissioners at the public meeting said the rule will apply to both wired (cable or broadband) and wireless (mobile) networks.
The latter category is crucial for some healthcare companies, American Well senior vice president Mike Putnam said in an interview. His video visits company has handled an increasing share of provider visits over mobile networks since releasing an app allowing patients to connect with doctors through the video functions on their phones.
That makes ensuring high performance crucial to the business model, and Putnam said the FCC's net neutrality rules are the best way to do that.
But Ryan Radai of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute said the FCC's application of net neutrality rules to mobile networks will be counterproductive for technologies relying on high-speed service. It's possible to build more wires but not to build a bigger spectrum that carries more wireless data. That means wireless providers need to ration resources and give priority to certain kinds of data. The rules, he said, are likely to make that more difficult to manage.