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What is Net Neutrality and Why Should You Care?
What is Net Neutrality and Why Should You Care?
By Angela Youngberg | 04-14-2015

There have been a number of news stories about net neutrality of late, and like many reasonable people, you may have ignored them. According to comedian John Oliver, people have ignored net neutrality because "net" and "neutrality" are two of the most boring words in the English language. Put them together and the combination may be more yawn-inducing than an Ambien and a glass of red wine.

So what is it and why is it relevant?  The term references the concept of treating all content on the Internet neutrally and prohibiting an Internet service provider from manipulating access to any specific site or charging companies, like Netflix, for faster delivery of their content.  The controversial Internet rules, which were approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February, will forbid Internet service providers to speed up, slow down or block a consumer’s access to any particular content. 

According to a FCC  release, the rules approved in February, “[O]nce and for all — enact strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future. These new rules are guided by three principles: America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open — principles shared by the overwhelming majority of the nearly 4 million commenters who participated in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding.”

Without net neutrality, the broadband companies are empowered to determine what information does and does not go across the network.  The Federal Register is set to publish net neutrality regulations today, which will sound the starting gun for an anticipated flurry of lawsuits from the broadband industry. Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, is expected to introduce a resolution to block the new regulations once they're published.

Many challengers took issue with the FCC’s reclassifying Internet service providers as utilities rather than information services, thereby subjecting them to regulation under Title II of the Communications Act. Many opponents have said they object, not to the principles of net neutrality, but to the Title II classification.

So, what does all of this mean for healthcare organizations? The policy is particularly relevant to healthcare, as healthcare services are increasingly delivered through networks—either online or mobile.  And yet despite the applicability to healthcare, many healthcare groups have not participated in the discussion. 

Telehealth and electronic record data exchange are the two primary areas of healthcare that would suffer were internet service providers allowed to charge higher prices for faster transmission speeds.

The healthcare system is hoping to encourage more data sharing, often through Health Information Exchanges. A charge for faster service provides a disincentive to sharing overall, and in particular hurts HIEs—which are non-profit and often struggle to find the proper business model under current conditions.

The net neutrality rules may prove critical for booming technology companies such as telemedicine that rely on moving large quantities of data and conducting more services over the Internet.  The rules would also, for the first time, apply open-Internet protections to wireless services for tablets and smartphones.

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Angela C. Youngberg
615.850.8797
angela.youngberg@wallerlaw.com
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