Experts Discuss Net Neutrality’s Effect on Health IT, Innovation

| November 21, 2014 |

Experts in health IT are concerned about how the debate over “net neutrality” and whether telecommunications companies should be able to charge more for priority Internet service might affect telemedicine and the exchange of health records, Modern Healthcare reports (Tahir, Modern Healthcare, 11/19).

About Net Neutrality

In May, the Federal Communications Commission released a proposed rule for public comment that would enhance protections for Internet openness outlined in the agency’s 2010 Open Internet Order (FCC release, 5/15).

Net neutrality is the idea that the Internet should be open and all telecommunication companies should be required to treat all Internet traffic equally.

Under this concept, Internet providers would not be able to block or degrade access to specific services or websites. They also would not be able to create a “fast lane” for favored content that loads more quickly than other content (Lee, Vox, 11/11).

The topic has garnered more attention in recent years as the amount of data being transmitted across networks has increased, with some arguing that the volume is unsustainable.

Some net neutrality opponents have proposed creating a “fast lane” or “paid prioritization” that would allow consumers to pay more to move data faster, while proponents of net neutrality say the Internet should be equally available to all.

According to Modern Healthcare, the FCC is expected to issue a ruling on net neutrality by early next year.

How Net Neutrality Affects Health Care

Health care and IT experts are considering what new rules could mean for electronic health records, telemedicine and other health IT innovations.

Mark Gaynor, an associate professor of health management and policy at St. Louis University who supports net neutrality, argued that having to pay more for priority data access could reduce information sharing in health care and block small innovative health care startups from the market.

In the past, Gaynor has noted that many telecommunications companies — such as Verizon — have telemedicine business interests, which raises concerns that they might use paid prioritization to favor their own offerings.

Other proponents of net neutrality also have raised concerns that the cost of any paid prioritization arrangements between providers and telecommunications companies would likely be passed onto patients.

However, Jot Carpenter — vice president of government affairs for CTIA, a telecommunications industry group that opposes net neutrality rules — said the concerns are unfounded. He said, “I don’t know that there’s any evidence to suggest that these startups would be prevented from reaching their customers or gaining critical mass in the marketplace or gaining notice.”

Meanwhile, some have argued that hospitals and other health care organizations should have priority access to the Internet, even if net neutrality becomes a reality.

In comments supporting net neutrality rules this month, President Obama said that health care would benefit from “clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital.”

However, CTIA says the exception proposed by Obama would present many regulatory hurdles and harm innovation. Under such a framework, CTIA says hospitals would have to obtain approval from the FCC to receive priority access from telecom companies, which would create unnecessary red tape and harm innovation. The group also has made the argument that the proposed reclassification would increase regulatory uncertainty for mobile health.

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban argues in a blog post that under Obama’s proposed exception to net neutrality, hospitals might be able to jump to the front of the line for Internet access but, “First in line in a traffic jam is still slow and buffering” (Modern Healthcare, 11/19).

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Category: Medical Technology

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