Net Neutrality and The Under-Served?

The election of Donald Trump as President has increased an understanding in issues that I did not really care about nor grasp before. Net Neutrality is one of them. The Wikipedia definition of “Net Neutrality” is as follows…

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems.

What prompted this post was reading this article on Medium about how the FCC Chairman is spoken openly about how he is against internet neutrality (an argument we will get to in a bit). The below article argued how decreasing internet neutrality will actually decrease job creation…

Both the definition and the above criticism forced me to think about the implications for both social work and healthcare. This is complex argument that started several years ago when the FCC and then President Obama increased regulation on the Internet to ensure more equal access and pricing. The opposition made several arguments. That this was the government over-stepping and not leaving it up the free market. By making the internet a public service that is regulated it may stifle innovation. That by decreasing competition it will decrease innovation. A fairly balanced of the argument against net neutrality is laid out here…

Conversely, people who are for Neutrality are concerned by reducing regulation. That making it a free market, and making bandwidth/ISP’s costly; it will limit access. This seems like why this issue matters right now. I find the implications of this disturbing. That decreasing regulation will decrease internet access. That it would create high priced “internet fast lanes” that would exclude companies and ultimately consumers that can’t afford them.

Both sides seem to go against competing interests. Innovation versus access. The question I am left with is how can you increase innovation without access? Innovation is the act of “introducing something new; a new device or product”. In terms of health information technology, innovation is only as good as the people who can access it.

It is alarming for me to think about those with limited access to technology being further hampered by cost. As healthcare and mental health services become more digitized, there are potential implications for services. That companies attempting to innovate in this area might be hampered by cost of ISP services. There is already issues with mental health parity in general. Driving up costs to digital services may have a negative impact on access.

This seems like a complex issue that those interested in health and social service innovation should stay tuned to. Digital space has the potential to reach people but there is already a digital divide. Net Neutrality seems to be the key to not potentially further a digital divide. The kind of innovation I am interested in is less about worrying about price gauging of ISP’s and more about insuring access for the most frail and vulnerable.

I tried my best to understand this complex issue but I am very concerned about the loss of net neutrality. I would love to hear varying opinions on this. However, if you are as concerned as I am, stay informed is “Save The Internet” presented by Free Press Inc.

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