July 12th was the net neutrality day of action. It was an attempt by internet activists to attempt to save neutral nature of the internet as it stands on the chopping block of the FCC.
Google, Twitter, Mozilla, the ACLU, and the EFF have all weighed in in favor of net neutrality. Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the web, has also thrown his stature behind neutrality, arguing that the loss of net neutrality is the loss of the “internet as we know it.”
While net neutrality is an issue that many internet users support in theory, there is the issue of self-driving cars and whether a neutral internet will provide the power to drive them.
This perhaps explains Google’s lackluster participation in the event. A policy blog post was crafted, but there was no other major push for action.
For those who are unfamiliar with the current Congress’s interest in the issue, their perspective is clear. The GOP-controlled Congress is attempting to return to previous policies that would allow internet providers to create slow lanes. The slow lanes would force customers to pay higher prices for accessing some content.
For example, Verizon could theoretically charge more for access to Netflix and other streaming services.
The move would destroy Obama-era landmark policies on the subject.
However, this comes at a time where the GOP Congress has also finally broached the issue of self-driving cars. Though, it is unclear whether these new technologies have influenced their discussion on net neutrality.
Net neutrality could be a major issue for the development and launch of autonomous vehicles. Back in 2015, Nokia’s chief said that net neutrality would hurt self-driving cars.
Speaking at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Rajeev Suri said, “There are some services that simply require a different level of connectivity.” Suri was adamant that a “differentiated quality of service” would be required.
Self-driving cars will require near-instantaneous data from a variety of sources. They’ll need regular map updates, which will come not only from satellites but from other cars.
Getting rid of net neutrality would allow cars to secure priority access to voice communications, which can be damaged with only a few seconds of lag.
Perhaps this is why Google failed to send a more deliberate and widespread message on the day of action.
Of course, net neutrality does not need to violated to achieve fast-lanes for self-driving cars. Net neutrality prohibits paid prioritization. However, the development of exceptions to the rule will likely be necessary as more internet applications require near-instant or instant communication.
One might speculate that a smart or reasonable Congress could kill two birds with one stone. Their professed support to clear the hurdles that may hinder innovation in autonomous vehicle technology has been expressed in the drafts of the new bills.
In attempting to create a neutral internet safe for the development of new technologies, a bill could be drafted that would allow for a wider open internet with the ability for companies to apply for exemptions.
This would allow Google, Tesla, and anyone who makes it past the mark to avoid the hindrances of net neutrality during development and launch. Meanwhile, it would protect consumers and prevent the worst fears of internet activists. Thus, if service providers attempted to apply for an exemption, consumers can make a free-market choice and switch service providers when the opportunity arose.
Companies attempting to violate public interest would likely see the scorn of the free market.
Regardless, it is unclear whether either of these issues is being considered by Congress or the FCC. Indeed, the idea that net neutrality would hinder self-driving cars could also be corporate double-speak.
Time will tell who will choose to play the long game. Until then, a free and open internet exists. And some facet of that must be protected.