You may have heard that earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—helmed by Trump appointee Ajit Pai—voted to gut the open internet principle known as Net Neutrality. This move is direct threat to women’s health, reproductive justice, and all movements that use the Internet to educate, organize, and fight back. But there’s still a chance to save the Internet as we know it.
Enacted in 2015, Net Neutrality prohibits internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, applications, or websites you want to use.
As such, “It preserves our right to communicate freely online,” says the advocacy group Free Press. “Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks—and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company shouldn’t decide who you call and what you say on that call, your ISP shouldn’t interfere with the content you view or post online.”
“Particularly damning is what today’s repeal will mean for marginalized groups, like communities of color, that rely on platforms like the internet to communicate, because traditional outlets do not consider their issues or concerns, worthy of any coverage,” wrote FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn in her dissenting opinion to the December 14 vote.
And doing away with Net Neutrality could really hurt women, the reproductive justice movement, and anyone who needs the kind of reproductive health care services we provide here at Maine Family Planning.
“Without a free and open internet, anti-choice extremists could pay to block access to accurate information about reproductive health,” NARAL Pro-Choice America recently warned. “Imagine a world where a woman searches the internet but can find no information on how to access an abortion.”
Once upon a time, that might have sounded far-fetched. But given the Trump administration’s transparent war on women, it’s a future sadly worth considering…and girding against.
What’s more, the end of Net Neutrality could spell trouble for Maine Family Planning’s groundbreaking telemedicine services, which include abortion care. Loosening the reins on mega-telecom companies and allowing them to engage in something called “paid prioritization”—establishing “fast lanes” for sites that pay, and slow lanes for everyone else—would be bad news for rural patients who access health care services at home.
As Modern Healthcare reported:
Those differing speeds could hurt telemedicine since it requires a “pretty robust connection,” said Mei Kwong, interim executive director and policy adviser for the Center for Connected Health Policy. “The last thing you want is for the interaction to suddenly freeze or the audio to go out or for the picture to be pixelated.”
Similarly, a panel of public health experts wrote in Health Affairs earlier this year:
Increasingly, telemedicine is being used to bring higher-end health care services to remote and rural areas to reduce health disparities. For telemedicine to be scalable and positively impact cost and outcomes, there must be a predictable infrastructure connecting patients, care providers, and technology. A prerequisite for telemedicine is broadband connectivity between telehealth sites. Reliable low cost service for telehealth is potentially threatened by the loss of [Net Neutrality or NN]. What happens to telehealth if Netflix traffic is preferred above medical applications? Could Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer better services for one hospital system than another, helping them take over telehealth in a region? The undoing of NN weakens the infrastructure of reliable low cost connectivity that telehealth systems depend upon.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also declared in a letter to the FCC before the vote:
“AAP is opposed to the implementation of paid prioritization because of its detrimental effects on the elimination of health disparities, efficiency of healthcare, and access to health information by parents and caregiver. If healthcare providers do not have the financial resources necessary to purchase priority Internet access, they may not be able to provide the efficacious, patient-centered, cost effective care recommended as part of the ongoing transformation and reform of our nation’s healthcare system.”
Every day, Maine Family Planning works to increase health care access for rural and low-income women. Undoing Net Neutrality puts that access at risk.
Congress can still step in to restore the open Internet that the general public wants and deserves by overturning the FCC’s order through a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act. Write or call your Member of Congress now.
In Maine, Rep. Bruce Poliquin in particular needs to hear from us.
Learn more at battleforthenet.com.