A Digital Healthcare Argument For Net Neutrality

The federal agency regulating communications is at a crossroads in establishing the rules of the road for how the Internet operates. Many commentators are rightfully concerned that the FCC could adopt rules that will give cable and phone companies the opportunity to discriminate against website providers and/or content, which would potentially put some sites in a paid fast lane and leave other sites in a slow lane.

This possibility has prompted massive public backlash: A record 3.7 million comments to the agency including the views of hundreds of top investors, leading technology companies, churches and civil society groups. Even President Obama joined the conversation, asking that the FCC implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.

To ensure a future of American digital healthcare progress and startup innovation, an open and unbiased Internet is necessary. Patients, doctors, and hospitals rely on the Internet to manage health and business today more than ever before. Doctors are now securely sharing their patients’ clinical information with other doctors over the Internet.

If the FCC does not classify ISPs as “common carriers,” virtual doctor visits provided by telemedicine platforms could be made more expensive by ISPs.

Patients are accessing their personal health records online, publishing data collected on their smartphones and home medical devices to their doctors’ records, and holding secure electronic conversations with their doctors. In the very near future, more than 10 percent of all doctor visits in the U.S. will be performed via Internet video chat sessions. These telemedicine visits will replace unnecessary trips to the doctor for millions of people and will be especially beneficial to homebound and rural Americans who have difficulty physically traveling to a doctor’s office.

Normally, this major progress in digital healthcare would be allowed to proceed and grow unencumbered on the Internet. However, this progress is being threatened by powerful monopolistic-minded ISPs.

Early this year, an appellate court ruled that, unless the FCC issued an order deciding that ISPs are “common carriers,” those ISPs could create differentially priced tiers of service based on the type of traffic that they are transmitting from a website.

If the FCC does not classify ISPs as “common carriers,” virtual doctor visits provided by telemedicine platforms could be made more expensive by ISPs that would be free to charge a premium fee to these platforms and by extension, their customers (both doctors and patients).

This new concept of tiered pricing based on the type of content being delivered would disrupt the internet as we know it and would harm doctors, patients, and smaller startup Internet companies working diligently to upgrade our nation’s digital healthcare infrastructure. To ensure America’s healthcare technology infrastructure can continue to grow and flourish for the rich and poor alike, it is imperative that ISPs are not allowed to create tiers of speeds in this manner.

A variety of medical professionals have submitted comments to the FCC, highlighting the damage that Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to allow paid discrimination would have on telemedicine. The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that “establishing a system of paid prioritization is contrary to the health and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults”. A rural hospital in Winamac, Indiana, and many others have urged the commission to prevent Internet fast lanes.

The incredible engine of progress and democracy that is today’s Internet must be preserved for future innovations and for future generations to benefit just as we all have benefited from progress to this point.