FCC Repeals Net Neutrality Regulations Despite Healthcare Industry Concerns

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on Thursday to repeal Obama-era regulations known as “net neutrality,” which required internet service providers to treat all data on the internet the same, and thus did not allow them to charge differently or prioritize/slow/block internet access based on user, website, application, or other factors. Repealing the regulations effectively lets providers increase broadband speeds for websites they favor (for example, websites that pay for prioritization), and block or slow down the speed for websites they don’t like (for example, those that don’t or are unable to pay extra for better access, or properties owned by other entities).  And despite promises from the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that this change would benefit telemedicine and other healthcare providers, healthcare stakeholders disagree.

“One aspect of this proposal I think is worth highlighting here is the flexibility it would give for prioritizing services that could make meaningful differences in the delivery of healthcare,” Pai said in a speech on November 30, according to mHealth Intelligence. “By ending the outright ban on paid prioritization, we hope to make it easier for consumers to benefit from services that need prioritization—such as latency-sensitive telemedicine…”

However, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) oppose the change as well as proposals that a “fast lane” could be created for healthcare providers that rely on high-speed internet connections for health IT purposes and telemedicine.

In a letter to the FCC in 2014, the first time the “fast lane” approach was proposed, the AAP said it was “opposed to the implementation of paid prioritization because of its detrimental effects on the elimination of health disparities, efficiency of healthcare, and access to health information by parents and caregivers. If healthcare providers do not have the financial resources necessary to purchase priority Internet access, they may not be able to provide the efficacious, patient-centered, cost effective care recommended as part of the ongoing transformation and reform of our nation’s healthcare system,” mHealth Intelligence reported.

Mark Gaynor, associate professor of health management at Saint Louis University, noted that it’s a little early to see how this will shake out for healthcare, but the impact it could have on telemedicine could be significant.

“You can probably find individual cases where it would enhance some vendors or some patients,” Gaynor told Healthcare IT News. “But overall it will not and will certainly not allow the innovation we need, as the little guys won’t be able to compete with the big players because they won’t be able to afford the better service.”

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.

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