Is the end of net neutrality a threat to IoT development?

The gutting of net neutrality rules could pave the way towards an unregulated future where the viability of IoT is threatened.

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The rapid spread of the internet of things quickly revolutionized how companies operated and how consumers interacted with their favorite apps and devices. Today, cars, homes, and even thermostats are all digitally connected, sharing information with one another and making consumer’s lives easier than ever before. But is this stunning phenomenon now in danger?

The Federal Communications Commission has put forward a proposal under the guise of “internet freedom” that could very well spell out the end of the internet of things. The gutting of net neutrality rules could pave the way towards an unregulated future, in which the fate of the internet rest in the hands of massive corporations.

So what exactly would the end of net neutrality mean for the internet of things, and what steps are innovators, industry leaders, and citizen activists taking to save it?

A corporatized future

Put simply, net neutrality ensures that internet users can communicate freely online, without fear of being bullied by large internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T. ISPs are forced to treat all internet traffic equally, and can’t create fast lanes to their own preferred streaming sources or websites.

Net neutrality is a critical facet of the internet of things; without net neutrality, customers may find it challenging, or even entirely prohibited, to connect the digital devices they own to one another. Corporations like Verizon may allow internet traffic to flow easier to their preferred brands and platforms, and leave users in non-premium “slow lanes” if they attempt to use their competitors’ products.

This stifling effect is disastrous for the ever-growing potential of the internet of things. The strength of the IoT comes from its unceasing ability to connect everybody, everywhere, at wondrously low cost. If the government cuts regulations that keep the internet free and open, ISPs may soon swoop in and decide which home assistants you can hook up to your network, or push for paid prioritization for customers willing to break out the checkbook.

In response, companies like Amazon, Google, and Reddit have taken steps to push back against the end of net neutrality, and celebrities ranging from HBO’s John Oliver to Snoop Dogg have voiced their support for net neutrality.

An unequal playing field

The business consequences for the death of net neutrality could be downright disastrous. Larger IoT firms which can afford to shell out additional payments for premium status will become the bell of the ISP’s ball, while smaller companies which can’t afford to buy their way to the top will face slower services and have fewer opportunities.

Are you an innovator with an aspiring start up you hope to change the world with? Without net neutrality, you may struggle to collect the necessary funds needed to ensure you stay connected to the internet at all times. The devices you connect to your home or business network may even need to be certified by your internet provider first.

High-volume internet traffic, such as huge swaths of data collected from IoT sensors, may soon be viewed by corporations as unnecessary strains on their infrastructure. Without net neutrality, corporations like Charter will have greater opportunities to charge you more for merely connecting to the internet, and could impose additional cost if your IoT applications use up lots of bandwidth.

The end result is an unequal playing field which favors those with more money, rather than those with the best applications and ideas. Corporations pick the winners and losers of the internet, and IoT app developers lose their much-needed access to a free and open web.

For the internet of things, which desperately needs rapid and open connectivity in order to survive and thrive, the end of net neutrality could mean the end of its expansion. Existing gadgets will be harder to connect to networks around the world, and aspiring projects won’t be able to find sufficient startup capital to get off the ground.

Those hoping to keep the internet of things alive can send their feedback directly to the FCC, though this may soon change. Without net neutrality, ISPs could force companies and consumers to pay additional cost before connecting them to the internet, depriving them of their right to petition the FCC.

What’s more, how would SMEs manage if this bandwidth monopoly began to extend to the cloud services they rely on? What if you could no longer decide on things like which HR software you could use, simply because your bandwidth was being throttled by the corporations with a stake in a certain competitor?

Those who cherish the IoT, and indeed the liberty to choose which internet-enabled services they wish to use, should understand the threats we are facing; without net neutrality, the internet of the 21st century will be less free, less connected, and less productive.

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