FCC’s actions on Rural Health Care and Connect2Health for cancer–relief from ‘net neut’ neurosis

Hot Air Relief Here. There’s been much of it expended on the so-called ‘net neutrality’ issue which can be summarized as follows: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting out of treating internet service providers (ISPs) like broadcast carriers, returning ISP speed/access enforcement to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as it was in 2015. Developments around 5G data and faster ISP speeds made the FCC’s involvement resemble a relic of the 1960s ‘vast wasteland’ FCC which imposed ‘equal time’ and content restrictions on broadcasters which were in effect through the 1980s and even into the 1990s. It’s taken our attention in healthcare away from FCC’s pertinent work in expanding the Rural Health Care program which covers some of the costs of broadband service for rural health care providers.

On the 15th, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) which triggers comment on the Rural Health Care program rule changes, importantly an increase in the present $400 million cap. It also gives a one-time funding boost by carrying forward previously unused funds. Telecompetitor is succinct on the rule changes and commissioners’ comments, some of which point to certain providers overbuilding capacity, the number of providers in the program has actually decreased, and that the point of it is to make service more affordable. FCC Release, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Full listing of documents  This may also stimulate private-public efforts such as Microsoft’s which attempt to close the rural digital connectivity gap through innovations such as the Rural Airband Initiative and utilization of TV white spaces [TTA 22 Aug].

Here’s some more FCC Good News. The Connect2Health Task Force and the National Cancer Institute announced a few days earlier that they are jointly working in the Appalachia region of Kentucky to study the relationship between better broadband and improved cancer care for patients in critical need counties. Appalachia is one of the poorest rural areas in the US with soaring cancer mortality. Only about half the state of Kentucky has internet and about 20 percent cannot access at all. The FCC is also inviting fixed or mobile broadband providers, health technology companies, device manufacturers, and healthcare facilities―to contact the Task Force. The project is Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connect Health (LAUNCH): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia. mHealth Intelligence, FCC Release

Net neutrality’s end and effect on telehealth (US)

With its recent decision in ending ‘net neutrality’ as directed in the FCC‘s 2010 Open Internet Order, the (Washington) DC Circuit Court of Appeals has changed the playing field for mHealth. The FCC regulation treated internet service providers (ISPs) like telecommunications companies by enforcing telecom ‘common carriage’ requirements that prevented ISPs from blocking or discriminating against types or providers of internet traffic. The current situation is now a double-edged sword for the ISPs: on one edge, ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast or Charter won, because they now can charge fees to, slow down or demand revenue sharing of high-demand content originators (Netflix) which also use a lot of bandwidth; the other edge is that the court affirmed that the FCC regulates the relationship between the two.

The meaning for mHealth? The amount of health data carried over the internet is growing exponentially and dependent on speed. If internet carriage can be held up for small providers to make way for high-paying content, it can and will change the revenue model for mHealth. From clinicians to fitness buffs, everyone wants their data right now. It may impact lower-income people and home health which uses internet tracking for healthcare. But it may also have a stimulative effect on ISPs–more bandwidth and speed means more revenue. How does this compare to UK/Europe/Asia/Oceania regulation? What do you see as the outcome?

More here: mHealth after net neutrality: Innovation drain or gain? (GovernmentHealthIT)Three Dangers of Losing Net Neutrality That Nobody’s Talking About (Wired)Net Neutrality is Dead! Long Live Net Neutrality! (Wall Street Journal)  And an advocate of Congress getting involved (!) is Greg Slabodkin in FierceMobileHealthcareHat tip to Editor Charles Lowe for pointing out the potential effect on mHealth.