Health IT Creating a Buzz

Patients, adept at using the internet to schedule travel, conduct business, and access information with the click of a mouse, are now driving changes in the way state and federal policymakers address health care reform.
“Health IT” is the new buzzword for health care, and information technology proposals for healthcare reform are sprouting like daffodils in April!

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen

So far this year, the National Governor’s Association has announced the creation of the State Alliance for E-Health, co-chaired by Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas. Their purpose is to bring together office holders and policy experts to, “address state-level health information technology (HIT) issues and challenges to enabling appropriate, interoperable, electronic health information exchange (HIE)”.
As quoted in the National Journal’s coverage of the event, Gov. Bredesen explained, “…the states can move much more quickly….I don’t trust the federal government to actually do anything on my watch.”

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Internet data storage is the wrong way to combat child sexual exploitation

Kudos to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for cracking down on child sexual exploitation, but it’s troubling he’s still considering whether to ask Congress for legislation to require communications companies to store things like search queries and which web sites their customers visit. Proposals like this endanger the civil liberties of the innocent and risk creating a police state. They are a dangerous substitute for adequately-funded law enforcement and prisons, and for a higher priority on children’s safety than on second- and third-chances for dangerous criminals.
When Congress held hearings on protecting children from sexual predators in 2005, it emerged that protecting children didn’t used to be a very high priority for some public officials. Consider these findings:

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“Where’s The Outrage?”

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) rightly worries that current universal service mechanisms are unsustainable as consumers migrate to Internet phone services that are lightly taxed and regulated (these services clearly should contribute their fair share). Stevens and others also believe that rural America won’t get broadband services without subsidies (we can’t know this for sure, because we have never tried the alternative approach of removing all of the barriers to competition and investment). Anyway, while Internet content and conduit providers obsess over net neutrality, something equally harmful is lurking in the shadows. A little noticed provision in the Senate’s “staff working draft” designed to expand the universal service funding base could have profound consequences. Currently, consumers of “telecommunications” services contribute billions Read More ›

The Stevens bill

This week Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced comprehensive telecom reform legislation which, as Adam Thierer notes, is a 135-page monster, represents a counterproductive obsession on the part of some policymakers over the smallest details of communications policy and doesn’t tear down any of the old regulatory paradigms that it sould. That said, the proposal would move the country in a positive direction in several respects. Net Neutrality — Unlike the House bill, which grants the FCC specific new authority to enforce the commission’s net neutrality principles — and which is guaranteed to lead to questionable enforcement proceedings and perhaps litigation between grasping and delusional competitors — the Stevens bill wisely requires the FCC to merely keep a watchful Read More ›

“There you go again”

One of history’s great propaganda experts believed that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. A lot of politicians follow this advice. The Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America endlessly wave the same bloody shirt of higher phone rates. The latest incantation is: “If approved, [the] merger [between AT&T and BellSouth] will lead to higher local, long distance and cell phone prices for consumers across the country.” This is absurd because AT&T and BellSouth do not compete against each other for local or mobile phone services. And any competition between them in long distance is de minimis. The consumer groups see these companies as potential competitors. They have argued unsuccessfully for years that antitrust Read More ›

Cringely…so close, but so far

Rich Karlgaard at his great Digital Rules blog refers to Robert Cringely’s new column. How can an article make so much and so little sense at the same time? Cringely correctly identifies big bandwidth as a replacement for Quality of Service (QoS). Big bandwidth will indeed render moot most of the “blocking” and “degradation” fears of the content companies. Congress, furthermore, should refrain from imposing new rules in a dynamic realm it knows little about. Yes, yes, yes. He must be lurking here at disco-tech. But then Cringely gets mixed up and implies the bandwidth providers (cablecos and telcos) are the ones asking for special new rules. Exactly wrong. It’s the content companies asking Congress to impose a massive new Read More ›

Franchise reform countdown

This week’s hearing on local franchising in the Senate Commerce Committee was breathtaking. Senator after senator expressed doubts about the wisdom of subjecting new entrants to the cable franchise process. Consumer advocates generally supported the phone companies. The same day, a group of 6 Republicans and Democrats on the committee signed a letter stating that Congress should reform the franchise process. “I think the stars are aligned,” noted Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). One gets the impression that the cable industry hasn’t been paying attention for the past 25 years, as they take positions and employ arguments that monopolists have used in the past with little-to-no success (see, e.g., Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T [1987], by Steve Coll). Read More ›

Memorable comments

On deregulation: “It is ironic that cellphone service is widely available at low cost [in India] because it was regarded as a luxury and therefore left to the market, while electricity is hard to obtain because it has been regarded as a necessity and therefore managed by the government.” –Former Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Martin Feldstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2006. * * * On net neutrality: “with or without a new law, the FCC will affect the future in a major way by its approach to the question of broadband’s openness. Sometimes called net neutrality, the question of openness is multidimensional. It is hard to define and harder to answer. Chairman Martin and his Read More ›

Net neutrality: part 38…Talk about degrading service…

Maybe Google should look to old-economy providers of rich content to find actual examples of content degradation. It seems Netflix, the popular postal purveyor of DVDs, has been using “fairness algorithms” to slow the mailing of DVDs to its most voracious customers. High volume customers impose higher postal costs on Netflix, which charges a flat fee for all users. Low volume customers are more profitable. Netflix now spells out this policy in its service agreement so customers know what they’re getting. Seems reasonable enough. Google and other online content companies have been fretting over the figment of online service blockages and degradation, though no one can seem to find any actual examples. Here’s an example of a content company degrading Read More ›

Industry reaffirms commitment to free Internet

Yesterday the head of the trade association representing most of the nation’s telephone companies testified that telephone companies will not block, impair or degrade what consumers and vendors can do on the Internet. “Today, I make the same commitment to you that our member companies make to their Internet customers: We will not block, impair, or degrade content, applications, or services. That is the plainest and most direct way I know to address concerns that have been raised about net neutrality.” –Walter B. McCormick, Jr. President and Chief Executive Officer United States Telecom Association February 7, 2006 As a practical matter, a voluntary commitment is significant because it is a de facto standard by which the actions of individual companies Read More ›