General Motors (GM), the biggest car manufacturer in the US, has urged US telecoms regulator FCC to give mobile operators more leeway than fixed-line players in managing internet traffic so innovation in the nascent connected car market is not threatened.
In a letter sent to an FCC official last week, and seen by Reuters on Wednesday (15 October), Harry Lightsey III, GM’s global connected consumer executive director, asked the regulator to “retain the critical distinction” between mobile and fixed networks when it comes to net neutrality – the principle that ISPs should treat all web traffic equally.
FCC is currently reviewing its legal position on net neutrality following a ruling by a DC Circuit Court of Appeals in January that rejected the commission’s authority to lay down and enforce net neutrality rules enshrined in its Open Internet Order (2010).
Under the 2010 order, mobile operators have an easier net neutrality ride than their fixed-line counterparts. While it banned mobile broadband providers from blocking or degrading access to rival voice and video telephony services (deemed primary offerings from mobile players), FCC let mobile operators off the hook when it came to applying the no unreasonable discrimination rule (applied to fixed networks). This gave mobile operators more flexibility in managing internet traffic over their networks.
It’s a distinction GM wants to keep. In Lightsey’s FCC letter he said “mobile broadband being delivered to a car moving at 75 mph down a highway – or for that matter, stuck in a massive spontaneous traffic jam – is a fundamentally different phenomenon from a wired broadband connection to a consumer’s home, and merits continued consideration under distinct rules that take this into account”.
As part of its push on the connected car, GM is working with AT&T and other ecosystem partners at the AT&T Drive Studio, the first dedicated ‘connected car’ centre in the US (watch our exclusive video feature here).
It’s not yet clear if FCC will maintain its 2010 position or not, but the Internet Association, which counts Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Netflix among its members, has insisted that it should change tack and treat mobile and fixed networks exactly the same.
“Segregation of the internet into fast lanes and slow lanes will distort the market, discourage innovation and harm internet users,” said Michael Beckerman, the association’s CEO. “The FCC must act to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules and apply them equally to both wireless and wireline providers.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, at a recent net neutrality roundtable reported on by Reuters, is clearly wrestling with the issue. While he could not accept a “hell will freeze over” analogy for the possible dire consequences of stricter mobile internet traffic rules – used by some mobile industry executives – he said he wanted to focus the conversation on how mobile operators might be allowed to “reasonably manage” their networks.