Internet of Things Needs Private/Public, Broadband Ingredients: Analysis

House IoT Caucus Leaders Acknowledge Policy Hurdles for Vast Technology
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In a report issued at a Capitol Hill seminar Dec. 16, the Center for Data Innovation called for "comprehensive national strategies for the Internet of Things to ensure that the technology develops cohesively and rapidly."

The report, "Crafting a National Strategy for the Internet of Things" urges that consumers and businesses should "not face barriers to adoption, and that both the private and public sector take full advantage of the coming wave of smart devices."

Although "cable" is never mentioned and the word "broadband" (in a wireless context) appears in only one paragraph of the 25-page report, IoT developments affect operators and technology providers who are creating consumer applications cited in the study. Many of the IoT ventures are part of cable operators' proposed expanded service playbooks, such as energy management, telehealth and community connections.

Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Internet of Things Caucus, spoke at the session prior to an industry panel discussion of the new report.

"There's so little information in Congress" about IoT, Issa confessed. He cited questions such as whether IoT devices "will be vulnerable, encrypted and will there have to be a back door" for security checks?

"Those questions very clearly fall within the debate that we  have to have in Congress," Issa said. "We have to find a way to create strong, safe, and reliable connectivity. ... [If we do], there is an almost unlimited potential for efficiency and a better life for our families."

DelBene said, "We need to be more thoughtful and forward looking about policies. ... We know we have to make [more] broadband available."  She also cited related issues, including international agreements that could affect IoT policy-making, such as "copyright policy and safe harbors."  

Both mentioned the need for IoT device "upgradeability," with Issa noting that IoT devices will be around for a long time and need of continuing change. 

The Center for Data Innovation report addresses similar issues, including "chicken-and-egg” dynamics that will involve "some successful IoT application rollouts [dependent] on widespread adoption of smart phones and broadband Internet service," while "more use of the Internet of Things will spur more broadband and smart phone adoption." 

Daniel Castro, director of the Center and VP of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, along with Joshua New, a policy analyst at Center, wrote the report. The Center  is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute affiliated with ITIF.

The authors conclude that, "while the private sector can successfully develop many valuable technologies" and "will be the primary driver of the Internet of Things," there is a need for national policies to bolster the industry which may face market failures "that could limit these incentives and thus slow progress toward a fully connected world."

"Governments should develop comprehensive national strategies that remove obstacles and support development and widespread adoption of the technology," the report said.

It also warned, however, that "poorly designed ... government regulations" could make IoT technologies "more expensive and less valuable."

The report observes that in the near future, "most users will be machines: a vast array of ordinary devices that are equipped with sensors and networking capabilities so they can collect and share data with people and other devices."

"A national strategy for the Internet of Things, if designed and implemented correctly, would maximize the opportunity for the Internet of Things to deliver substantial social and economic benefits."

Interoperability Is Vital

The report focuses on public-sector activity (such as health, environment, transportation, defense, and city management), warning that "market failures... if left unaddressed can slow the technology’s progress.

The report urges the private sector to "lead the development and adoption of standards," noting however that public-sector involvement may be necessary to assure national coordination and avoiding "incompatible systems and lagging adoption."

Acknowledging that wireless spectrum will play a major role in IoT development, the report cites potential problems with national spectrum licensing regimes that "will likely be unable to support" the avalanche of devices.

It notes that local Wi-Fi networks (such as those being proposed by cable operators) can handle some Wi-Fi offloading, but many other IoT ventures will be needed for high data volumes.

"As more specialized applications of the Internet of Things emerge and more devices rely on spectrum, governments will likely need to make available greater amounts of licensed and unlicensed spectrum," the report explains.

The comprehensive study also examines related IoT issues such as equity availability, the impact on human capital, research and development funding and "innovation-friendly regulation." It suggests that IoT services could provide "a valuable opportunity to close [the rich/poor digital] divide."

The report looks at IoT development in seven countries (China, South Korea, Japan, India, Singapore and Germany, as well as the United States).  It notes that U.S. federal commitments to IoT projects is now about $200 million, compared to $774 million in China, $5 billion in South Korea and $7.4 billion in Indian -- the latter for "smart cities" ventures.

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