"Net neutrality has become an illusion in that its rhetoric leads to the appearance of giving customers greater opportunity and controlling market power. The reality is that it is keeping the poorest and most economically vulnerable among us from getting the services the rest of us take for granted. Let's resolve to stop this."
The overlooked impact of last February's FCC vote to begin micromanaging the Internet with 1934 "Title II" rules is that it hits hardest on society's disadvantaged. First, they're less likely to have broadband service. Second, they have the greatest needs since broadband gives them access to services such as mHealth, and telehealth that they're less likely to have elsewhere.
The FCC's decision to saddle broadband technologies with Title II rules directly undercuts our ability to deploy high-speed broadband. Therefore it also directly undercuts any effort to expand health care access.
The latest evidence of these problems came last Tuesday, as an Arkansas Internet provider told Congress how the FCC's action had forced her company to delay plans to deploy across Central Arkansas. Elizabeth Bowles, head of Aristotle ISP, testified, "Before [the FCC's action], it was our intention to triple our customer base by deployment of a redundant fixed wireless network...." But the firm had to pull back because of what she called "the risks [and] expense" of complying with the FCC's rules.
So tens of thousands of residents in Central Arkansas lost a broadband option that could have linked them to quality health care access.
To put this in perspective, consider the health care challenges faced in that state. Arkansas ranks 48th in overall healthcare, according to a 2015 survey. Nearly 40% of rural residents are obese, and there is a growing health disparity among the less educated.
Nor is Arkansas alone in these problems. Rural healthcare access remains a crucial issue across much of the U.S., particularly in areas without public transportation. A 2013 study found that transportation barriers limit health care access, especially for those living in lower income communities. These individuals are more likely to miss appointments which leads to delayed care and an inability to properly manage chronic illnesses.
Telehealth and mHealth will not solve every healthcare problem. But they can solve many - and at an affordable cost.
The FCC should stop undercutting online health care access - and broadband deployment in general - in a misguided attempt to regulate the Internet.