Last December, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to end net neutrality. Internet service providers (ISPs) can now slow down Internet speed for certain websites and charge companies to prioritize their traffic in “fast lanes”. For experts, throttling Internet speeds could not only lead to unfair competition but also stifle innovation in autonomous vehicles, IoT and cryptocurrencies.
Jeremy Gillula is senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an ardent supporter of net neutrality.
You could come up with a killer idea that can save society, but if you have to go to each Internet provider and ask them to let your traffic go through, you’ll be at an unfair disadvantage if you don’t pay for fast speed. That’s a danger to innovation.
ISPs on the other hand argue that this will allow them to invest in better infrastructure leading to faster Internet for everyone.
Venkatesh Narayanamurti, IT professor at Harvard School of Engineering explains:
It could be good because the US lags behind many European and Asian countries when it comes to high-speed Internet. However, while dominant companies like Netflix and Amazon will be able to pay for it, how will smaller companies?
Service provider Comcast believes net neutrality should be repealed, stating that ISPs could prioritize instant communication to make self-driving cars safer. However, though autonomous vehicles will generate terabytes of data every day, industry experts point out that most of the data is being processed in the vehicle itself—otherwise a spotty reception could cause accidents.
According to Gillula,
For safety reasons you don’t want autonomous vehicles to be on the Internet so someone can scan and detect them. You want them to be on their own dedicated network. And in that case you don’t have to worry about net neutrality rules applying.
Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication typically uses a bandwidth called DSRC to exchange data wirelessly between cars and their surroundings. Several car manufacturers such as General Motors, Toyota and Renault are either already using it or will do so soon. If ISPs gain control of the unlicensed spectrum that DSRC runs on, as they’ve expressed interest in, they could then decide to block V2V communication, slow it down unless they’re being paid or decide to use the spectrum for something entirely different.
Internet of Things
As more and more of our devices become smart and connected to the Internet, ISPs could decide to slow down the use of specific home gadgets.
Comcast has announced it is working on its own smart home platform. For Gillula, it would clearly have an incentive to prioritize its own gadgets over those of competitors.
If you have a new product and all of a sudden Comcast decides that it wants to discriminate against a certain type of traffic, then suddenly your IoT device might not work anymore.
In the grand scheme of things, the amount of data that IoT devices transmit is minuscule and isn’t being transferred over the Internet but rather on private networks. For Alfonso Velosa, IoT analyst for Gartner, the biggest issue would be if the volume of data grows rapidly.
Right now there are few enterprises that have more than 1,000 IoT devices, but moving forward it could be in the tens of thousands and that’s where the volume of data could impact it.
The future popularity of cryptocurrencies will decide how much of an impact the repeal of net neutrality will have. If digital assets take off they will generate more traffic which give ISPs an incentive to charge for faster transactions, and decide to ban access to crypto exchanges. Cryptocurrencies rely on peer-to-peer transactions and ISPs have a history of blocking traffic for sites like BitTorrent.
ISPs like Comcast and AT&T won’t do that, but a local Internet provider could decide to limit access to the dark web. And if you live in an area where that’s the only provider, you don’t have much of a recourse.
The different cryptocurrencies exchanges could also be forced to pay for faster Internet to handle large quantities of transactions. That could lead to decide which cryptocurrencies succeed and which die.
For Martin von Haller Grønbaek, IT lawyer for Bird & Bird specializing in blockchain technology, there could be a silver lining.
If traffic is slowed down because cryptocurrencies are not paying for priority, it would have a negative effect. On the other hand, it could also give them an incentive to create alternative systems.
It’s that kind of innovation that have put cryptocurrencies on the map anyway.