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The Importance of Net Neutrality for Medical Devices

Connected medical devices (the internet of medical things – IoMT) provide enhanced monitoring and control to those who need it. Patients use these devices to track their progress, to help them better manage their condition and their daily living activities. The benefits realized with device connectivity are readily apparent in rapid response times, better outcomes and better quality of life. It is important that medical devices maintain connectivity and communicate securely and freely on the open internet.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. – Wikipedia, 2017.

Looking back in time, before the iPhone revolution, before the World Wide Web, one can see how medical conditions were managed in a face-to-face manner. Communicating with a physician via telephone and commuting to their office was not always so easy. In the days before 911 emergency dialing, even finding the telephone number of local police, fire or ambulance services was challenging.

The point I am trying to make is that the ability to alert caregivers and health care providers is similar to dialing 911 in an emergency situation. A direct and open connection is needed at all times. A thriving internet requires net neutrality.

Without free and open access, internet service providers (ISP) can perform traffic shaping or bandwidth throttling for commercial and competitive reasons. Consumers do not have a guarantee of performance. Commonplace these days is an ISP or large telecom with a health care division. Now what if a competing heath company or medical device needed access to stream video or open a telemedicine session? With net neutrality, the ISP could not provide any less grade of service. Without net neutrality, the ISP could throttle the connection for competing services.

Just as a guarantee of free speech is engrained, net neutrality is a critical requirement for a free and open democracy.

When a medical device needs to send data, it must be able to communicate without restriction and without fear of degraded performance due to an ISP’s traffic shaping decision. Medical and health devices transmit all formats of data, video and audio being the most bandwidth intensive. Add a layer of encryption to meet HIPAA and PIPEDA requirements in North America and the performance needs increase. We must ensure the decision on which data to allow at what level of performance and service, should not be left in the hands of an ISP or government.

Freedom means does not mean free access, it means fair and open access. Everyone, every bit and every byte is treated equally. Net neutrality can save lives.

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