UPDATE: On Dec. 14 the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal net neutrality regulations, handing a victory to telecom providers over the objections of tech companies including Netflix, Reddit and Etsy. Net neutrality regulations had prevented internet providers like Comcast and AT&T from blocking or slowing web traffic, or creating paid fast lanes. Instead, providers will be required to disclose their practices, with the FTC expected to police anti-competitive behavior. The FCC’s new rules could usher in big changes in how we use the internet.
The meeting began this morning with protesters gathered outside the FCC, but the expected decision didn’t take very long to reach and fell along party lines.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who says his plan to repeal net neutrality will eliminate unnecessary regulation, called the internet the “greatest free-market innovation in history.” He added that it “certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation” that’s been responsible for the internet’s “phenomenal” development. “Quite the contrary,” he says.
“What is the FCC doing today?” he asked. “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”
Broadband providers, Pai says, will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in underserved areas. Ending 2015 net neutrality rules, he says, will lead to a “free, more open internet.”
“The sky is not falling, consumers will remain protected and the internet will continue to thrive,” Pai says.
THURSDAY, DEC. 7: Thousands of Americans protested across the country in all 50 states in support of continued net neutrality, the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, applications or websites. Put simply, net neutrality is how the internet has always worked. In 2015 the Federal Communications Commission made history by placing broadband under Title II regulation in an attempt to permanently safeguard net neutrality. Now the Obama-era regulations may be repealed.
Although net neutrality rules make it illegal for high-speed Internet service providers to throttle speeds or block or slow down specific content, some health care experts worry the industry, and especially rural organizations, will struggle with the policy changes. While advocates of a repeal suggest there could be room for more competition and lower prices, others disagree arguing that if net neutrality rules are repealed, larger health care organizations may fare better than smaller ones simply because they can absorb the costs. Rural and community health centers may be left to struggle without the resources to pay for a fast internet connection on a tiered system.
Health care organizations rely on the web for telemedicine as well as data storage crucial because of government-mandated use of electronic health records. Even if the FCC were to create exemptions for health care providers or telehealth vendors, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to apply those same exemptions to patients on the other end. For homebound patients benefiting from advancements in remote monitoring, slower connectivity may not meet the demands of new technology that continuously transmits data to a primary care physician or relies on a video feed.
The FCC is expected to vote on the net neutrality rules on Dec. 14.