The Implications of Net Neutrality for IoT

If you have turned your attention to any news outlet lately (even the comedic ones), you have likely heard the words “net neutrality” thrown around quite a bit. The FCC is currently considering changing a few key pieces of legislation around access to the internet, and it could have implications around innovation, especially when it comes to IoT.

Let’s start with the basics: what is net neutrality and what are the changes being considered?   

Net neutrality is the idea that access to the internet should equally enable all content and application’s regardless of their source.  This principle dismisses the idea that internet providers should be able to manipulate access to certain sites, application, or content by controlling speed, service or visibility in relation to what you pay for your services.  Net neutrality advocates in favor of equal internet access for all subscribers and content providers.

The FCC is currently considering walking back the net neutrality legislation (passed in 2015) that treats internet providers as public utility providers, mandating that they distribute equal levels of service to all customers.  Instead, the FCC would allow service providers to become free market competitors.

One of the main complaints opponents of this change are voicing is that this would severely impact accessibility. For example, the changes would service providers to alter their service offerings, even going so far as to slow down your internet speeds and deny access to certain applications or sites from their competitors.

What implications could this have?

One of the main arguments against these proposed FCC changes is that it stifles innovation.  Many of the world’s foremost technology companies were started by individuals with limited resources who relied on the “world wide web” to make their vision a reality.  Be it research, applications or code deposits, access to a reliable internet service is why we have Facebook and Reddit.  Additionally, due to the “free internet”, websites or applications that are developed can be created and uploaded to the internet without any oversight from internet providers.  This allows an open market where anyone at any time can launch a product to be viewed by all.

Without net neutrality, there is a risk that some innovative new ideas will never be able to get off the ground.  Disparity in access to information and resources may become insurmountable, and the red tape that would be required to have applications or sites approved could force a company out of business before they have their first URL.

In addition to inhibiting innovation, eliminating net neutrality threatens existing ecommerce.  Today’s economy is largely based on the free exchange of goods conducted globally thanks to the virtual marketplace the internet provides.

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Reddit, Netflix and many other tech giants have all been outspoken advocates of net neutrality, because their business relies on equal access to the internet.  If individuals are required to pay more for their internet services to access sites or applications, or prohibited from viewing them if their internet is provided by a market competitor, these companies would see the impact in their bottom line.

Imagine Comcast slowing down your internet streaming speeds to prevent you from watching Netflix/Hulu, thus making their traditional cable offering more appealing.  These changes put the power with the provider, allowing them to control how you experience the internet and what you can contribute to it.

What does this mean for the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things relies on connectivity.  With no net neutrality, entire processes, products and networks could become obsolete.  A mesh network falls apart if one user has had their services slowed and does not meet the required bandwidth, a connected children’s toy no longer syncs with its online gaming counterpart if they don’t have access to the application.

IoT only works when connections allow data to reach its full potential.  Without a free internet, the progress IoT has made across all industries will be slowed.

The value of IoT is predicated on the universal accessibility of the internet. Access to the internet has changed the way we exist in a global economy and a global culture. If the internet becomes a competitive service offering, this fundamentally alters existing business and future innovations.

As the internet continues to evolve, there will undoubtable be changes to regulations and legislation. It is essential that these changes not contribute to a fundamental re-imagining of how the internet can be used in a broader virtual economy and as a conduit for connectivity, data and free exchange.


Clare Maher

Clare Maher is the Product Marketing Manager at ClearObject. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College (#gobelles), Clare can usually be found yelling at the screen during a Notre Dame game, quoting any film ever made or touring the Indy restaurant scene.

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