FCC repeals net neutrality rules, potentially affecting telemedicine
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to repeal net neutrality rules, ending Obama-era regulations that prohibited internet providers from blocking or slowing web content.
Whereas all internet traffic previously shared the same "lane," it can now be split among different lanes with different speeds.
Those differing speeds could hurt telemedicine since it requires a "pretty robust connection," said Mei Kwong, interim executive director and policy adviser for the Center for Connected Health Policy. "The last thing you want is for the interaction to suddenly freeze or the audio to go out or for the picture to be pixelated."
Though the FCC could make exceptions for healthcare so it's not subject to the same rules, Kwong and others said, that might still leave patients to fend for themselves.
"What do you do then for the individual who's at home and trying to get services at home?" Kwong asked.
These changes run counter to some recent Veterans Affairs Department efforts to expand telemedicine, she said.
They also run counter to what the majority of Americans want, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said Thursday. "Those very same broadband internet service providers that the majority says you should trust to do right by you will put profits and shareholders returns above what is best for you," she said.
"When the current protections are abandoned, and the rules that have been officially in place since 2015 are repealed, we will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality," Clyburn said. "We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all that is left is a broadband provider's toothy grin."
Those in favor of the rules assured the audience that the repeal of the rules would not "break the internet," as Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said. "I for one see great value in the prioritization of telemedicine and autonomous car technology over cat videos."
The FCC vote, led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, comes a few months after the agency's open comments period on net neutrality closed. During the period, 21.7 million comments were submitted. But the Pew Research Center recently found that only 6% of those comments were unique, with some of the other comments submitted hundreds of thousands of times. Of the seven most common comments—which accounts for 38% of all comments—six were in favor of the repeal, while the most common submission was opposed to it.
Eighteen state attorneys general called for the vote to be postponed over concerns that 2 million Americans' identities were falsely used to comment on the net neutrality proposal.
Echoing those concerns, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said before Thursday's vote, "I think our record has been corrupted and our process for public participation lacks integrity."
The FCC also voted today to adopt proposed rulemaking to give the Rural Health Care Program more money for helping rural providers modernize their communications services.
"It's becoming harder for rural patients to receive healthcare," Pai said. "That's what makes the combination of the internet and rural medicine so critical."
An edited version of this story can also be found in Modern Healthcare's Dec. 18 print edition.
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