In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted (3 to 2) to repeal net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T should treat all internet content equally. For example, net neutrality ensures that ISPs cannot charge more money or vary internet speeds based on the type of content you are trying to access. That could be news, social media, streaming video or the website of a business or friend.
Unfortunately, the FCC’s recent decision to repeal net neutrality could completely undue basic fairness for consumers by allowing ISPs to charge higher rates or vary internet speeds based upon the content users are trying to access. This means ISPs will be able to charge for content you currently receive for free or lower speeds for competitors’ products.
Furthermore, the FCC’s decision flies in the face of the public’s support for net neutrality which has surprising bi-partisan approval. A recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland indicated that 83 percent of respondents favored net neutrality. Breaking down the numbers even further, support for net neutrality was discovered amongst 89 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Independents.
While many associate this problem with younger individuals, older Americans will also feel the negative impact from the FCC’s decision. Research demonstrates that seniors actively use the web, with 67 percent of Americans 65 or older using the internet regularly. Taken one step further, 76 percent of seniors who use the internet do so at least once a day. Given how vital the internet is for so many seniors, it’s clear that the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality will have an impact on their daily lives.
Most importantly, older Americans have started to use the internet to gain better access to health care. Telemedicine and telehealth allows for patient monitoring, video chatting with doctors and an easier ability for physicians and their patients to transfer medical information. People are able to get the medical attention they need without having to travel long distances, which can too often be a daunting challenge for seniors in rural communities. According to the 2015 American Hospital Association report, 20 percent of Americans are from rural areas “where many do not have access to primary care or specialist services.” Older Americans in rural areas with chronic health conditions might find it challenging to travel to physician’s offices because of transportation or mobility issues. The internet has allowed people the ability to get medical attention without the hassle of long travel. However, the FCC’s decision regarding net neutrality could permit ISPs to play favorites between websites; resulting in web based health care services with slower internet times, or leave their customers with costlier bills.
According to Leslie Lenert, chief research information officer at the Medical University of South Carolina, the benefits to telehealth such as direct consultations, medical education and the transfer of medical information from patients personal devices (i.e. heart rate monitors) to physicians, “could be constricted if they were treated differently than preferred traffic .” Consequently, older Americans might have to spend more money on internet fees to get the identical medical care they received before the FCC’s decision.
The internet has also helped seniors deal with social isolation by giving them an inexpensive way to stay in touch with family and friends. Tragically, eight million individuals over the age of 50 are impacted by isolation. Services like Facebook, FaceTime and Skype allow seniors to stay connected through the internet instead of traditional telephones. Seniors can video chat with grandchildren through FaceTime and Skype, and view pictures of family on Facebook. The FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality will allow ISPs to potentially charge consumers additional money to use this content which could place an unnecessary financial strain on older Americans for that valuable connection.
Too often, low-income seniors have to save pennies just to pay for health care, rent and food. Seniors living on a limited income should not be forced to absorb another unnecessary hike in their monthly expenditures stemming from more costly internet access. Whether it’s receiving vital medical care or simply staying in touch with family, the internet has made life easier and more enjoyable.
However, all is not lost for seniors! Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) recently introduced a bill that would overturn the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality. The legislation has bi-partisan support in the Senate, and should be endorsed by the White House and members of the House.
Sadly, the FCC’s decision regarding net neutrality may place roadblocks on older Americans ability to access the content they often need and use on the internet. Hopefully Congress and the Trump administration can build on Markey’s legislation and work together to ensure elderly Americans affordable access to the internet.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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