Connected Cars and the Importance of Net-Neutrality

Just how important is net-neutrality when it comes to the 'Internet of Cars'?

Net-neutrality presents an interesting argument within the context of the Internet of Things, particularly as trends like the Internet of Cars begin to surface.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISP’s) should treat all data on the internet equally. They should not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, platform, or application. With this is mind, I think it’s important to look at the implications of what the connected car would look like without net-neutrality.

Let’s begin by looking at the internet. Research has shown that the internet has grown rapidly with 36 million adults in the UK now accessing the internet daily - and this growth and access for all would not have been possible without net-neutrality. For example, small companies’ websites are on a level with larger organisations’ websites. Without net neutrality, large companies could have the option to pay to make their data packets move faster than smaller companies across the same network. Instead of investing in larger faster networks the ISP could maintain profits by limiting certain data packets and prioritising others for a fee. The reality is that net-neutrality is something we have and it keeps the internet a safe and fair place for us to roam.

People are becoming more familiar with net-neutrality, especially as the internet progresses. However, many people associate it with Netflix and media consumption as this is what we see in the news. The reality is that net-neutrality is much bigger than that; especially as we introduce the Internet of Cars.

Think about it for a second; imagine you have a car which is completely connected to the internet. It is able to offer different routes based on traffic jams, notify you on speeding, help you with your parking and it can connect with your smartphone to play the kind of music you like and provide accurate voice recognition. This all sounds brilliant, but if we ignore net-neutrality, it could all be compromised. Without net-neutrality we could see the connected car affecting public safety, especially if we look at the need for the internet to access maps and for processing. Basically, without net-neutrality, “Car Company A” could pay “Mobile Provider B” to prioritise its traffic over “Car Company B's”.

Let’s looks at the extreme end of the spectrum, imagine if we had a two tiered internet, where ISPs charge for basic access and then charge the content providers extra to ensure delivery of their content. Does this mean that anyone on the basic tier could have issues with their content being delivered? If we follow this thought through and say the connected car did not have the super-fast access, or that the company had not paid for the high tier of service, could we see issues when the car could not communicate its location or receive special instructions?

If we stretch this even further and look at emergency services, what about an ambulance on its way to the hospital with a critical patient on board? It is reasonable to assume, with the progression of the Internet of Things, that the patient’s vital signs are being fed in real time to the hospital. What if this provider did not have the special faster tier? Would the speed of delivery of this critical information be hampered?

If we consider these scenarios, albeit extreme examples, we can see that net-neutrality is integral when thinking about the connected car. Just as we have freedom of speech and equality in our day-to-day lives, it’s only natural that, as we enter a more digitally-centric world, the same practices occur. As internet and connectivity continue to play a huge part in our lives, we need to make sure that net-neutrality also continues to play a part.



Gary Newe is Sr. Systems Engineering Manager at F5 Networks