FCC Chair Unveils Proposal To Tighten Net Neutrality Regulations

February 5, 2015 in News

On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler unveiled a proposal to tighten regulations and oversight of mobile and fixed broadband providers to better protect the Open Internet framework, the Wall Street Journal reports (Nagesh, Wall Street Journal, 2/4).

About Net Neutrality

In May 2014, FCC released for public comment a proposed rule that would enhance protections for Internet openness outlined in the agency’s 2010 Open Internet Order.

Net neutrality is the idea that the Internet should be open and that all telecommunication companies should be required to treat all Internet traffic equally.

Under this concept, Internet providers would not be able to block or degrade access to specific services or websites. They also would not be able to create a “fast lane” for favored content that loads more quickly than other content.

The topic has garnered more attention in recent years as the amount of data being transmitted across networks has increased, with some arguing that the volume is unsustainable.

Some net neutrality opponents have proposed creating a “fast lane” or “paid prioritization” that would allow consumers to pay more to move data faster, while proponents of net neutrality say the Internet should be equally available to all.

The health care industry stands to be affected by any changes in policy, as health care services are increasingly being delivered online or through smartphone applications (iHealthBeat, 1/22).

Details of Proposal

Wheeler’s proposal would subject mobile and fixed broadband providers to utility-like regulations (Wall Street Journal, 2/4).

Specifically, Wheeler plans to:

  • Ban Internet providers from intentionally blocking or slowing down legal online content;
  • Categorize broadband as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the telecommunications law, which would increase the agency’s authority over it; and
  • Prevent providers from charging websites that want access to Internet “fast lanes.”

In a Wired opinion piece, Wheeler said the rules would ensure “the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission” (Sasso, National Journal/NextGov, 2/4).

FCC will vote on the proposal on Feb. 26 (Wall Street Journal, 2/4).

Reaction

Reaction to Wheeler’s proposal was mixed among digital health stakeholders, Politico‘s “Morning eHealth” reports.

For example, Matthew Douglass, vice president of Practice Fusion, said the proposal was “of dramatic importance,” noting, “If you consider that our health care technology infrastructure is 10 to 15 years behind the rest of American industry, we need as many new startup companies as possible to be able to enter the market and compete with existing behemoth health care companies.”

However, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said the plan could harm mobile health innovation, particularly in home health care. He said, “All information is not equal and there must be a way of prioritization,” adding that important data should not be “hampered by less critical information” (Gold, “Morning eHealth,” Politico, 2/4).

Last month, Health IT Now joined the mHealth Regulatory Coalition and Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance in a letter to FCC urging the agency to maintain rules established the 2010 Open Internet Order. They noted that more stringent requirements could decrease telecommunication companies’ investment in their networks “and innovation that will be critical to next-generation health solutions” (iHealthBeat, 1/22).

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