You might have heard the argument the telephone and cable companies are circulating, that net neutrality rules stand in the way of developing reliable telemedicine programs. It's an argument designed to fall on sympathetic ears; everyone wants the best quality health care for the elderly and disabled. It's also false. If these companies get their way and net neutrality rules are not put in place, network operators would become the new HMO's, reducing competition and limiting the health care choices of patients. Explaining where their argument goes astray also provides a good opportunity to clear up some confusion on just what net neutrality means.
Different types of Internet traffic have different needs: no one would notice a few seconds of delay in email, but the same delay for VOIP would make Internet phone conversations impossible. Telemedicine traffic over the Internet should be handled differently than email, and net neutrality wouldn't prevent network operators from doing that.
What Net Neutrality does do is prevent the companies who control Internet access from cutting an exclusive deal with one telemedicine provider on preferred terms, effectively immunizing that provider from competition. Forced to choose between a provider who can guarantee a reliable connection and one who has been shunted to the slow lane, consumers would have no choice at all. Network operators would effectively decide what options are available to health care consumers.
Net neutrality allows network operators to speed up telemedicine information traveling over their networks, provided they speed up all telemedicine information. This maintains a level playing field for competing providers, encourages innovation and keeps prices low. Most importantly, it keeps network providers from acting as yet another gatekeeper between consumers and their health care choices.
Which is why, just today, OR-Live joined the It's Our Net Coalition in support of net neutrality. They provide live broadcasts of surgical video over the Internet, as an educational resource for physicians and patients. Their statement nails it: “We believe that life-saving information should remain available to everybody, not just to a privileged few.”