One of the largest referral sources for addiction treatment centers is the internet, and that channel could see some significant changes as early as this year. A rule proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May would end a number of Obama-era regulations that were set in place to maintain what is known as “net neutrality.”
Essentially, net neutrality is a concept that establishes the internet as an open source of content that flows in a neutral way. No particular source or type of content today gets preferential treatment over another. In other words, a blog written by a small treatment center’s director in a rural town will flow just as quickly to a consumer’s device as a virtual-tour video from a large beachfront facility.
“As a whole, net neutrality is a benefit for the addiction treatment industry, as families can more readily research all aspects of the disease of addiction and find broader treatment options as consumers,” Dan Gemp, CEO of Dreamscape, tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive.
In theory, without net neutrality, an internet service provider, such as Verizon, could block or slow down content or online applications and collect fees from sources who want their apps speeded up. Advocates for keeping net neutrality argue that internet service providers should not act as gatekeepers because it will create an exploitative business model, unfair competition and artificial limits on consumer choices.
The changes could have a direct effect on care as well. For example, one telemedicine platform could be slowed while its competitor—that pays a premium—advances to a “fast lane.” Harvard University professors pointed out in a recent Health Affairs blog that patients could also be impacted if cloud applications, connected medical devices or provider-to-provider information flow is slowed.
Gemp says the issues raised against net neutrality include concerns over taxation of ecommerce and measures to combat online black markets, predatory behavior, identity theft and terrorism. The FCC has noted that net neutrality regulations stifle innovation for current internet service providers and hamper entry into the market for new providers who could offer consumers good deals on broadband.
“The question our officials are challenged with answering, now that we’re nearly 30 years into the modern iteration of the internet and driving a mobile revolution, is whether Americans have the right to consume and digest any media they choose online regardless of its nature,” Gemp says.
It’s surprising that more healthcare leaders haven’t weighed in on the subject. Public comments are still open for several more weeks. Click here and enter “17-108” in the “Proceedings” field. Click the top “Express” button for a short form.