April 11, 2021 - Last week, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, along with House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Mike Bost, the Republican California Congressional Delegation, and Members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HVAC), led the fight to ensure that California’s veterans have access to critical and lifesaving telemedicine.
In a letter to Marybel Batjer, President of the California Public Utilities Commission, the Members demanded that the Commission stop the implementation of Section 3101(a)(6) of the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018, because it would deny veterans in the State access to health care. If the Commission must implement this provision of State law, the Members call on the Commission to seek its repeal immediately.
Zero-rating is a common practice among Internet Service Providers, in which they agree to provide data for Internet access under certain circumstances, such as for the usage of a particular app like VA Video Connect, at no cost to a consumer. In the case of the VA Video Connect app, zero-rating practices by most major Internet and cellular providers have been an invaluable resource for our nation’s veterans seeking to access VA Video Connect services when they cannot see a provider in person, particularly those who are facing financial hardships or live in rural areas. By prohibiting zero-rating practices, California is choosing to put many California veterans who need access to critical telehealth services in an impossible position.
Highlights of the letter are below, or you can read it in its entirety here:
“Telehealth provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Video Connect application has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic, and VA’s partnerships with AT&T, TracFone, T-Mobile, and Verizon have helped increase video telehealth usage to over 40,000 daily appointments. These strategic partnerships between VA and the carriers to waive data consumption for VA Video Connect have significantly increased access for veterans who rely on smart phones but cannot afford unlimited data plans.
“The passage of the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 should not invalidate these partnerships, and we have long warned that net neutrality mandates could have these types of impacts. It is hard to imagine that inhibiting the expansion of telehealth access to veterans was anyone’s intention when writing the law, and a clear signal is needed to dispel the regulatory uncertainty.
“We respectfully request that you refrain from enforcing the law’s prohibition on zero-rating in its section 3101(a)(6). VA Video Connect is VA’s preferred telehealth application, and the carriers should be lauded for their willingness to exempt it from data limits. If you determine you do not have administrative discretion, we urge you to immediately send a legislative proposal to the California State Legislature to fix this urgent issue affecting veterans. We may disagree on the adverse impacts net neutrality laws have on consumers, but we should be able to agree that this aspect of the law must be reexamined. Telehealth is an increasingly vital part of any health care delivery system, and we should expect its usage to continue to increase and plan accordingly. We should be thoughtful about imposing burdensome laws that inhibit its growth...”
Source: Congressman Kevin McCarthy