by Tom Lee

Filed Under:
healthcare, net neutrality, sonia arrison

Is Net Neutrality Going To Kill You?

from the be-very-afraid dept

Techdirt does not have much of a history of awarding plaudits to Sonia Arrison. But this time we at least have to give her points for originality: in her latest essay opposing net neutrality she advances the indisputably original argument that net neutrality will kill you.

Well, alright: that's a bit hyperbolic. But she does think that net neutrality legislation could lead to clogged networks that make pervasive health-monitoring applications unsafe, or at least untenable:

Technology like RFID tags connected with wireless networks can help create an "always on" health monitoring system, thereby transitioning society away from a "mainframe" medical model and redirecting it toward a smaller, more personalized, PC-type model. This is a great idea, yet the unspoken truth is that this type of communication requires healthy, innovative networks. That raises a key question about Net neutrality, an issue spun and respun by many.

It's a neat trick, presuming that "non-neutral" and "healthy" are synonymous. But leaving aside that sleight of hand, Ms. Arrison's position ignores an area where regulated networks have historically excelled: providing a minimal but guaranteed level of service. The telephone system's better-than-five-nines level of reliability emerged while Ma Bell was at her most closed and monolithic. The ubiquity of the E911 system is the product of a federal mandate. And the highly-regulated public broadcast spectrum rarely sees dead air.

The best arguments that net neutrality opponents have advanced concern the future of the network, not its present state. They maintain that treating a packet differently based on its business pedigree rather than its functional characteristics will ensure a competitive marketplace that provides new network services -- more bandwidth and lower latency -- and keeps prices low. Whether or not you agree with this conclusion, these posited advantages are exactly what low-bandwidth, latency-insensitive health monitoring systems don't need.

That isn't true of telerobotic surgery, of course, and that application is the other healthcare case that Arrison considers. And although she inexplicably implies that using the public network for it would be anything other than lunacy, she at least acknowledges that dedicated links can and likely would be used by hospitals for this sort of work. But then Arrison bizarrely notes that net neutrality legislation could cripple these privately-owned networks, too.

In 2001, professor Jacques Marescaux, M.D. and his team performed the first clinical robot-assisted remote telepresence surgery, operating on the gallbladder of a patient in Strasbourg, France -- 4,000 miles away from their location in New York. What this type of procedure means to remote patients is life-changing, yet such an operation requires a stable and well-managed network, free from the binding hands of politics. Even if the doctors are using a dedicated network, it is still affected by whatever rules bureaucrats place on network operators as a whole.

I suppose this disastrous outcome is a possibility -- but only in the sense that net neutrality legislation would also be a bad idea if it mandated that ISPs only allow traffic related to Facebook gifts and chain emails, or that cablemodem speeds not exceed 56k. It's hard to imagine why legislators would do anything so daft. "Strengthening the case of anti-neutrality activists" is about the only reason I can come up with.

To be sure, there are real arguments to be made about the future of our networks and the appropriate role of the government, if any, in managing them. But net neutrality is not going to make you sicker.

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  • identicon
    Evil Mike, 19 May 2008 @ 11:44am

    New Networks...

    New networks are coming. Eventually the pissy little speeds that've been debated lately won't even be considered a drop in the bucket to what's coming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    zealeus, 19 May 2008 @ 11:58am


    Going by her 2001 example, I don't buy it. As far as I've seen, internal networks are not affected by net-neutrality legislation, and are free to block p2p, video streaming, etc content. Actually, in a hospital with tight security restrictions, I would hope content filtering is turned on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Craig, 19 May 2008 @ 11:58am

    Net Neutrality will KILL you.

    The problem with Arrison's position is she doesn't take into account RLANs (dedicated point to point, point to multipoint conections), T1s, DS3s, etc. All of these have SLAs associated with them. Also, we already have regulations on these types of circuits and net neutrality will not affect this. Just ask this question a simple question. If you were a hospital network/telecom admin would you a) Get unreliable and without
    and SLA dsl/cable modem or b) would you get a synchronous circuit that has an SLA?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jim, 19 May 2008 @ 1:51pm

    Net Neutrality is just a Symptom?

    I still think that the underlying issue is that the access providers are getting into the content business. That is the main reason that they care about packet filtering and bandwidth shaping -- they want to limit competition with their own content services.

    IIRC, there are laws currently in place that prevent movie studios from owning theaters, for reasons that sound a lot like what could happen without net neutrality. Would an extension of these, or similarly worded new legislation, be a better solution? If the access providers could not be content producers, then it would be in their best interest to allow all content -- in order to attract the widest customer base possible -- as well as focus more on the quality and reliability of the access they provide. Of course, back when those older laws were passed, the government actually cared about the consumer...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jake, 19 May 2008 @ 3:33pm

      Re: Net Neutrality is just a Symptom?

      Of course, this could be solved fairly easily (if expensively) by investing in upgrading and expanding their existing infrastructure, and just maybe reining in Marketing a bit and making sure they aren't making extravagant promises that the rest of the company somehow has to keep.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Henrique, 19 May 2008 @ 5:59pm

    how hard can it be ?

    How hard is it to just see the conflict of interest with letting the providers regulate and filter anything they want to ? Net newtrality states that if they reduce bandwidth for a service they have to do it across the board, and not everyone's but theirs. That, coupled with a few regulations from the government setting aside enough bandwidth for the health department will make for a great future.

    These people need to read up more before talking crap in public

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David McMillan, 19 May 2008 @ 6:54pm


    Net Neutrality is mostly about last mile connections of internet, the ISP want to filter what moves through there end of it. This is nothing about what goes on the middle, it's nothing about what goes on with the other end of a connection if it's different ISP.

    So this woman's talk about private/dedicated network with medical facilities is %100 FUD. Her argument has no legs to stand on. End of story.

    (sorry about the Subject I could not help myself)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mike allen, 20 May 2008 @ 3:14am

    one question

    I would ask her is What is your other agenda that of only governments and authorised services would be allowed to use the net? that is what appears to be the undercurrent behind her writings. for great firewall of china read great firewall of Sonia Arrison

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ferin, 20 May 2008 @ 5:03am

    ...wait, what?

    Uhm, not to put a damper on her arguement or anything, but I've actually worked with robotic surgical suites like DaVinci. They don't just send the info for those out over the general net, they use a secure, direct link between the operator and the machine. Nobody in their right mind would do anything less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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