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Will rolling back net neutrality rules impact IoT?

Today, the FCC voted 3-2 to roll back the previous administration’s net neutrality rulings. Most of the public conversations on this change to date have focused on consumer impacts — how will the changes affect how we consume Netflix and other streaming services, or what kind of media content will be free versus behind pay walls because the ISP and the media company are one in the same. These are valid concerns worth debating in the court of public comment. I hope all of you have made your opinions on the matter known to the FCC — even though that has proven to be really difficult lately.

We should also consider what IoT services look like in an environment where there isn’t a “neutral net” for bearing data from the more than 8.4 billion connected things that are in use today. I have my own opinions on the use of Title II to regulate net neutrality — you are welcome to read my post from 2015 to learn more about that. Regardless of the mechanics of net neutrality enforcement, we should explore the potential positives and negatives to the IoT market when there isn’t any.

Some potential impacts

First in my mind is the question regarding impact to critical and safety systems. Any lag introduced into services in smart cities, assembly lines or autonomous vehicles because of network re-prioritization could be serious and potentially life-threatening. Should we demand exceptions for these services the way we now have 911 call prioritization, etc.? What’s the cost of that, and who determines the going rate?

I expect another reaction might be the acceleration of edge service adoption and the resurgence of “on-premises” systems. These may help bypass concerns about cloud access becoming cost prohibitive and subject to the whims of large public providers. I am sure companies will be considering ways to mitigate the problems with private enterprise networks that allow for more control of their critical traffic. Some may also attempt to negotiate “most favored nation” style guarantees at premium prices. In either case, that’s more of the IoT investment dollars going into network and infrastructure costs, which means less dollars for innovations and new services.

Finally, I think there will be an even greater acceleration of the adoption of blockchain technologies, in part to counter the negative impacts that a “non-neutral” network will have on security and reliability. Distributed, peer-to-peer connections to exchange data will soften the impacts of any potential network throttling or paid prioritization rules that the major carriers may choose to implement.

Doing it for ourselves?

Given that the next administration (assuming a political party change) may reverse today’s ruling, and frankly, that we could see this hot potato of an issue bounce back and forth over the next coming decades, this decision to roll back net neutrality rules may not have any immediate direct effect on IoT. But I don’t suspect that the industry will wait to find out. I will be watching for changes in customer requirements and implementation plans as an indicator that the IoT market is solving for reliable, secure and unfettered data transmission on its own.

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