Comcast reaches to tie self-driving cars to justifiable paid prioritization

Self-Driving Car Lane
Comcast's argument that paid prioritization and internet fast lanes may spur innovation of a self-driving car industry that could be worth as much as $7 trillion seems logical, but there's a glaring technological hole: Autonomous vehicles don’t communicate using the open internet.

While Comcast spent much of a 161-page commentary (PDF) to the FCC this week egging on the now Republican-led commission to carry out rollbacks of internet regulations passed by the previous Democratic regime, tech blog The Verge noticed a “quirky” paragraph buried deep inside the document. 

“The Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public,” Comcast said. “And paid prioritization may have other compelling applications in telemedicine. Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it."

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But although Comcast was making the seemingly logical argument that paid prioritization and internet fast lanes may spur innovation of a self-driving car industry that could be worth as much as $7 trillion, The Verge pointed out a glaring technological hole: Autonomous vehicles don’t communicate using the open internet. 

Indeed, the FCC has set aside spectrum in the 5.9GHz band specifically for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which will allow self-driving cars to exchange data with each other, and myriad other devices, over unlicensed spectrum. 

A Comcast rep told the tech pub the comments were not referring to DSRC, but rather LTE-Vehicular (LTE-V) communication, which would let cars communicate with cellular towers over LTE. But that technology is still under development, and automakers are increasingly favoring DSRC for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication. 

“Since none of these messages are ever meant touch the networks of Comcast or any other carrier, their prioritization argument is irrelevant,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst at Navigant Research, to The Verge. 

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