Friday, December 15, 2017

Net neutrality repeal could hurt telemedicine, but FCC boosts funds for rural-health broadband

The Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines yesterday to repeal "net neutrality" rules that force internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally. "The move represents a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight," Barbara Ortutay and Tali Arbel report for the Associated PressHere's an explainer of what the repeal of net neutrality could mean for you.

"Under the new rules approved Thursday, companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T would be free to slow down or block access to services they don't like," AP reports. "They could also charge higher fees to rivals and make them pay up for higher transmission speeds, or set up 'fast lanes' for their preferred services — in turn, relegating everyone else to 'slow lanes'."

That could hurt the growing field of telemedicine, since it requires a strong broadband connection, Rachel Arndt reports for Modern Healthcare. Rural health-care providers and residents could be forced to pay more for adequate broadband or do without, especially since rural internet service providers often have little or no competition.

The FCC also voted yesterday for a one-time increase to the FCC Rural Health Care program, which covers some of the costs of broadband service for rural health-care providers, Joan Engebretson reports for Telecompetitor. The move appears to be an attempt to mitigate any potential price increases rural areas might see after the net-neutrality repeal.

But broad changes to the internet won't happen for a while, since internet service providers will likely behave while the spotlight is on them. But if the rollback survives the inevitable court and legislative challenges, telecoms companies could misbehave — again. "The Associated Press in 2007 found Comcast was blocking some file-sharing services. AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services — which competed with its voice-call business — from the iPhone until 2009," the AP reports.

AT&T and Verizon in particular could benefit from the rollback since they could bump up speeds on their in-house media streaming services and stifle competitors such as Amazon, Sling TV, YouTube, or new startups. 

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