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AT&T Equates Net Neutrality, Self-Driving Cars

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 29, 2018

A wave of Federal and State legislative activity is underway to restore the principle and policy of Net Neutrality heaved overboard last year by Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. AT&T is at the forefront of these efforts, going so far as to take out full page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post last week under the headline: “Consumers Need an Internet Bill of Rights.”

The passionate plea penned by AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson calls on the U.S. Congress “to end the debate once and for all, by writing new laws that govern the Internet and protect consumers.” Until such time, he says, AT&T will unilaterally support the principle of net neutrality and will not “throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content. Period.”

AT&T statement: https://tinyurl.com/yblphsrm - "Consumers Need an Internet Bill of Rights"

This assertion from AT&T takes an interesting turn halfway down the page noting “in the very near future, technological advances like self-driving cars, remote surgery and augmented reality will demand even greater performance from the Internet. Without predictable rules for how the Internet works, it will be difficult to meet the demands of these new technology advances.”

In essence, the message suggests that a world without net neutrality could create “winners” and “losers” on the nation’s highways and in its operating rooms. The message sheds light on AT&T’s thinking and its priorities.

The message could be interpreted as intending to “scare the horses” (i.e. consumers) who hadn’t connected the dots between everyday wireless-dependent applications and the impact of an Internet capable of operating with fast lanes and slow lanes. Consumers that may choose to save some money on their connected car system might not learn of hazardous driving conditions in as timely a manner as the driver in the next lane. Health insurance providers might try to save a few bucks and thereby cheat their customers out of the most sophisticated – and wireless-enabled – surgical options.

Combining these two applications, though, appears to be an effort to boost self-driving car technology into the category of a consumer demand or even a requirement, equivalent to surgery. This is truly fascinating given the fact that most self-driving vehicles today do not require wireless connectivity of any kind.

Remote surgery is arguably closer to being a reality and certainly a higher priority than is wirelessly connected self-driving cars. AT&T is suggesting that failure to restore net neutrality could put the U.S. at a technological disadvantage on both fronts.

All in all, it’s a clever and compelling message. It’s interesting to see AT&T prioritizing self-driving cars in this manner. Clearly AT&T is expecting a massive positive impact on its bottom line from the steady march toward self-driving cars. It certainly is terrifying to consider the prospect of collision-avoiding connected cars supported by some form of segmented wireless service with different degrees of responsiveness. AT&T is saying we have a right to something better.

As Mr. Stephenson concludes: “That’s why we intend to work with Congress, other Internet companies and consumer groups in the coming months to push for an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that permanently protects the open Internet for all users and encourages continued investment fo the next generation of Internet innovation.” Right on.

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