Repealing net neutrality would reduce access to critical health services

Repealing net neutrality would reduce access to critical health services
© Greg Nash

Tomorrow, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to repeal net neutrality rules set in place just two years ago. Net neutrality is the principle that your internet service provider (ISP), such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, cannot arbitrarily slow down or block your access to websites or online services.

The FCC’s rules in 2015 preserved the openness of the internet, and for good reason: the internet has become the primary platform to find jobs, build new businesses, take advantage of educational opportunities, and mobilize activists around the world. It is a means for people to access health care providers and critical health services.

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And it is also integral to righting social injustices, such as the health disparities that exist between people of color and their white counterparts. Quite simply, the repeal of net neutrality could impact people’s health and reverse the progress made towards reducing deep-rooted social injustices.

 

In its 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC provided a balanced approach to ensure that vital health care information could be considered a specialized service and would not be subject to conduct-based rules. The FCC’s new draft Order, which eliminates the idea of internet access as a basic telecommunication service, effectively destroys this balanced approach.

Instead, the FCC suggests that lifting a ban on paid prioritization is the cure-all that will spur innovation and ensure that health information will have priority over other internet traffic. Tech innovation, particularly in the form of telemedicine, mobile health apps, and wearable technology, has given us the opportunity to reach patients where they are but relies on the internet remaining an open platform for innovation.

The repeal of Net Neutrality would change that, stifling innovation in such a way that those who have been historically underserved by the health care system  low-income people and people of color  will be most impacted.

For example, African Americans are two to four times more likely to suffer from complications related to diabetes, and people of color are two to four times more likely to die from it.

Telemedicine and mobile health apps now allow providers to remotely monitor blood glucose levels, manage diabetes, and educate diabetic patients  all while reducing the need for outpatient visits and lowering overall medical costs.

In addition, it’s important to note that when it comes to health care innovation, we are now being pushed to search for our health care providers and book medical appointments online. So, not having access to the Internet could hinder a person’s ability to even access traditional medical care.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to have good health, and that requires access to innovation. This means everyone needs to have consistent and reliable internet access.

Repealing the 2015 net neutrality regulations would not only exacerbate already existing health disparities, but also continue to nurture a perverted health care system that favors the “haves” at the expense of the “have-nots.”

Congress must step in and stop the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. Our access to innovative and critical health services depends on it.

Christy Gamble is the director of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs at the Black Women’s Health Imperative. Carmen Scurato is the vice president of Policy and General Counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. You can follow them on Twitter at @ChrisMichelle13 and @CarmenScurato