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The Importance of Net Neutrality for the Connected Car

15/07/2014 10:20 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

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. Net-neutrality presents an interesting argument, especially as more objects become connected to the internet, such as cars, also known as The Internet of Cars. 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 start by looking at the internet. The internet has grown immensely with 36 million adults in the UK accessing the internet every day - and this couldn't have happened 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 making the internet a safe place for us to roam.

As the internet progresses, people are becoming more familiar with net-neutrality, however they tend to associate it with Netflix and media consumption as this is what is reported in the news. Net-neutrality is actually much bigger than that now; especially as we introduce the Internet of Cars.

Let's think about this for a second, imagine your car is completely connected to the internet. It can offer different routes based on traffic jams, notify you on speeding, give you a hand with your parking and connect with your smartphone to play the kind of music you like and provide accurate voice recognition. While all of this sounds great, it could all be compromised if we ignore net-neutrality. 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".

Taking the possibilities to 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?

What about an ambulance on its way to the emergency department with a critical patient on board. We are at a stage where it is not unreasonable to assume or to think 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?

Although these are extreme cases, if we consider these scenarios, 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.