The wireless industry earned a major supporter in its net neutrality battle with the FCC as OnStar owner General Motors issued a strong appeal for looser open Internet rules for wireless operators.
"We've observed assertions that under the same rules for fixed and mobile networks, certain defined exceptions for 'reasonable network management' for mobile broadband providers can provide the necessary flexibility," wrote Harry Lightsey III, the executive director of GM's Global Connected Consumer, in a letter to the FCC. "From our point of view, mobile broadband being delivered to a car moving at 75 mph down the 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."
Lightsey added that "this is because the commission can't define exceptions for 'reasonable network management' for circumstances it can't imagine. And, as we continue to develop new and innovative uses for mobile broadband used by vehicles, we already know that neither we nor mobile network operator suppliers can predict all of the techniques they may need to deliver services to our customers."
Further, Lightsey argued that the wide range of connected services that are being installed into automobiles, including streaming audio and video, Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless collision-detection systems, make the net neutrality issue a critical one for the automobile industry. "By needlessly constraining the latitude our mobile network operator suppliers have in delivering their connectivity to owners of our vehicles, you would also constrain the innovations we are seeking to provide our customers," he wrote.
The FCC is currently working on renewed net neutrality rules for wireless and wireline operators after a court ruled invalid parts of the agency's original 2010 rules. Wireless networks were largely exempted from the FCC's net neutrality rules in 2010. Wireless carriers have argued that they need more leeway to manage their networks than wireline network operators because of the physics of their wireless networks and because of their limited spectrum resources.
However, FCC officials, including Chairman Tom Wheeler, have recently questioned whether wireless carriers should be given more leeway in any future net neutrality guidelines, largely in light of the massive growth of wireless use and the improvements carriers have made to wireless networks.
"The use of Wi-Fi has also increased, and the trends suggest it will continue to do so. Cisco projects that 52 percent of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2018, and from the consumers' perspective, they often do not know whether they are using cellular data or Wi-Fi, because the transition is seamless," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn recently said at a recent public hearing on the issue. "To me, this means we need to be careful, to avoid creating differing or conflicting standards or rules for Wi-Fi and mobile."
But the wireless industry has strongly fought back against this notion. "Given the comparative spectrum shortage faced by U.S. operators, wireless providers must be able to manage their networks so that all users have a solid user experience," Scott Bergmann, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs, wrote in a recent blog post.
Now, as GM works with carriers including AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) to install LTE connections into more and more of its vehicles, the company is siding with the wireless industry in its battle with the FCC over net neutrality. And the issue may well be critical to GM and its partners: Automotive research company SBD predicts the global connected car market will be worth $54 billion in 2018.
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