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Net Neutrality in Healhcare and Life Sciences

Many of you may be wondering what the issue around Net Neutrality (NN) has to do with Healthcare and Life Sciences Research. The truth is we really don't know yet for sure, but it could be significant, and we shouldn't ignore the possible consequences at this very critical point in time-- I'll share some of the reasons I can think of...

Net Neutrality is under siege because of the corporate interests to generate large profits through the (bad) control of high-bandwidth access. The semantic web, though itself not requiring high-bandwidth (yet), opens the door to better access to large amounts of highly relevant information for the researchers, providers, and consumers of healthcare. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Secure access for the Public to our private, managed electronic Health Records in the future, which will include not just our data and MRi scans, but intelligent references to background associated information and images pertaining to knowledge of diseases and available treatments.
  • Guaranteeing all citizens the best possible care by providing full medical information to all care-givers everywhere; Hospitals need to offer access to National Health Library information to all their physicians and specialists (perhaps charters should be created here, for government health orgs such as NIH and NHS).
  • Complete assembly of megavariate datasets (genes x dosing x tissue x genotype) and imaging data to be used by the full research community, e.g., BIRN.
  • Mega-Grid applications involving petabyte simulations and analyses that can be requested by any scientist from anywhere in the world.
  • Other areas of scientific research that will require high-bandwidth, including astronomy, geospatially distributed ecological data (e.g., NOAA), real-time, large-volume epidemiological studies for fast spreading diseases (e.g., SAR, H5N1 reporting ).

All these require high-bandwidth network communications that should remain unhampered and evenly available to all. I would like to point you to TimBL's blog on this topic and on the issues surrounding Net Neutrality.

Another blog by Jon Stokes illustrates the salient points through examples.

I'm in no way suggesting changing the focus of HCLS, since it should remain true and productive to its goals. But the NN issues could have far-reaching consequences on the ideas and vision we're proposing, and I don't want our efforts to come to naught due to political myopia (any opthamologists on the list?). Please use this site to share and discuss your thoughts as well.