Navigant Research Blog

Losing Net Neutrality: End of IoT or Boon for the Edge?

Casey Talon — June 14, 2017

The Trump administration is on the road to making net neutrality a thing of the past. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) leadership are positioning to undo regulations that have laid the foundation for how consumers access the Internet. The risk is that without this regulation, Internet service providers can delineate variable fees and Internet speeds when accessing certain websites as a means of protectionism. In May, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai articulated the administration’s view that Obama-led rules are not protections for online retailers and consumers, but rather, a “bureaucratic straightjacket.” This new FCC-led sentiment and the expectation they will follow through with actions to dismantle net neutrality laws this summer have inspired a Day of Action protest on July 12 with the likes of Etsy, Kickstarter, and Mozilla. Impassioned executives have explained the importance of net neutrality. General Council at Kickstarter stated “A threat to net neutrality is a threat to the free exchange of ideas that creative culture and an informed public rely upon.”

The FCC’s Open Internet Order is the rule supported by the Obama administration in 2015 that protected net neutrality on the precedence of anti-monopoly oversight of the telecom industry. The 400-page tome is dense, but the intention is clear in line one: “The open Internet drives the American economy and serves, every day, as a critical tool for America’s citizens to conduct commerce, communicate, educate, entertain, and engage in the world around them.” Industry concerns are clear. The Republican-led opposition to net neutrality is a paradox; while it may be positioned to eliminate government intervention in commerce, the loss of this regulation will be a direct blow on today’s most vital free market: the Internet.

Hit to IoT?

An article in Wired outlines what the end of net neutrality could mean for the Internet of Things (IoT): “Dismissing the rules could be a big problem for the future of the Internet of Things, since companies like Comcast—which is already working on its own smart home platform—certainly have the motivation to create fast and slow lanes for particular gadgets and services. If your Internet provider can decide which personal assistant or smart home gadgets you can or can’t use, the broadband can dictate the winners and losers in the Internet of Things race. That wouldn’t bode well for competition, innovation, or you.”

Also, Bad for Business?

IoT has become a central theme in the intelligent buildings market. The capacity to deploy low cost devices to gather and communicate near or real-time data has opened the door to innovation in how commercial buildings are managed and even viewed as business assets. IoT intelligent building offerings can reduce energy costs, streamline operations and maintenance, and redefine occupant engagement. Many of the leading offerings deliver value through a core analytics component utilizing cloud computing. The attack on net neutrality could take a blow at the intelligent building in a similar way to the smart home as explained by Wired. However, even if the FCC wins this fight, the future for intelligent buildings is still bright—what may change is who the winners are.

A Boost for the Edge: The Smart Gateway to the Rescue

Large technology players including Cisco, Dell, Intel, and Qualcomm have been making waves in the intelligent market with hybrid offerings that shift the intelligence of the solution to a mix of cloud and edge computing. This delegation of computing can lessen the blow of the FCC’s action and protect the momentum of the intelligent buildings market. The future of IoT and intelligent buildings is contingent on technology partnerships. I would argue that if we lose net neutrality, the role of IT majors in the market may become that much more vital.

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