Net neutrality has changed the digital landscape for millions of Americans, specifically physicians and health care professionals, but that could all change on June 11. In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the net neutrality rules set in place by the Obama Administration, and on June 11 the repeal of net neutrality is set to take effect. Many professionals are unaware of the positive impact net neutrality has had in areas of the health care profession, such as telemedicine and technology education since it passed in 2015. Despite these technological advancements, many doctors still do not understand net neutrality, or the potential effect the repeal will have on their practice.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the concept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast and Spectrum are required to handle all data equally. Meaning ISPs cannot slow down some websites and speed up others. Net neutrality operates all websites loading at equal speeds and treats all content online fairly. Also, it protects the consumer from paying more money for slower internet speeds. Net neutrality keeps everyone on a level playing field with everyone having the same rights to the equally fast internet, and all websites are available at the same speed and quality.
Life without net neutrality
Without net neutrality, non-profit and educational websites and databases run the risk of being de-prioritized for commercial websites, meaning the importance of educational materials and research is left up to the internet service providers. Allowing ISPs the ability to decide the importance of internet content leaves the potential for the medical and academic community to suffer. Additionally, we can expect slower internet speeds affecting the ability to live-stream, upload and download promptly. Overall, a divide will be created between those who can afford faster internet service and those who are stuck with the slower bandwidth.
What does this mean for physicians?
For physicians and health care professionals, the repeal of net neutrality could be detrimental. First, professionals run the risk of paying significantly more for high-speed internet capable of downloading, uploading, sending and receiving digital medical records. Also, all the advancements made in telemedicine recently could become stagnant. Despite the recent advancements, the future of telemedicine remains uncertain because even if the doctor can afford the high-speed internet to treat patients, many patients may not be able to afford the high-speed internet capable of live-streaming with their doctor.
Likewise, the education of doctors will be impacted significantly. For medical students, there is potential for an increase in tuition since it will cost more for high-speed internet capable of downloading and uploading medical books and research vital to their education. For doctors, it will become harder to stay up-to-date on the most recent research and studies in their field. Educational and non-profit websites will be overshadowed by commercial websites paying ISPs, making it harder to access scholarly research. Finally, the competition created between commercial websites and educational and non-profit websites will hinder and slow-down research. Overall, net neutrality has created a level playing field on the World Wide Web. It has made possible technological advancements that empower physicians with the education and tools they need to best care for their patients.
How can you make a difference?
On Wednesday, May 17, 2018, the Senate voted to reinstate the net neutrality rules repealed in December. The legislation is currently in the House where it is given little hope of advancing. Contact your district’s representative and express your concerns over the end of net neutrality and the effects it will have on physicians and healthcare professionals.