For folks in rural areas — particularly veterans, the elderly, or the disabled — innovations in telemedicine can improve health and quality of life. A federal net neutrality law to prevent broadband providers from unfairly throttling or blocking traffic could spur investment in telehealth applications by giving startups and investors the confidence to know they won’t have to pay for special access to online fast lanes. Congress has debated net neutrality for over a decade without passing legislation. A bipartisan solution is long overdue.
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Advances in telemedicine will only benefit those Montanans with the broadband connections required to access them. In too many rural areas of our state, broadband infrastructure is inadequate or non-existent. As lawmakers in Washington continue to debate net neutrality, any legislation must avoid creating hurdles to broadband infrastructure investment. Unfortunately, the legislative debate over the past year has focused on reclassifying broadband under utility rules from the 1930s, which experts warn are a terrible fit for the internet and would discourage investments necessary to expand broadband access in rural areas.
Two senators from opposing parties — Sen. Wicker (R-MS) and Sen. Sinema (D-AZ) — are leading a bipartisan effort to permanently protect net neutrality while creating a more modern regulatory framework for broadband services that would encourage the network investment we urgently need in our state. Montana’s senators should consider joining that working group. Telehealth startups deserve the protection of a permanent net neutrality law, but not at the expense of rural broadband.