Opinion

SXSW: Revolutionary Tech Requires an Open Internet

“Keep Austin Weird.” Yes, that’s the slogan for one of the more unique cities in America and since 1987 Austin has been the world stage for a growing event that just ended, South by Southwest. At SXSW, participants got to experience everything from music and entertainment, to the latest presentations about innovations in the tech industry. So last week it was less about “Keep Austin Weird,” and all about, “Keep Austin Tech.”

On this world stage, speakers talked about the ever-evolving landscape of technology, exciting opportunities for consumers in the near future, and the always challenging concept of how to regulate rapidly advancing technology. As discussed in Austin, today there are innovations in wellness, such as fitness devices with personal apps and trackers to help us stay healthy, remote health care monitoring to improve our medical services, smart home devices to keep us safe and secure, and advances in entertainment both at home and on the go. As we look towards new innovations on the horizon in the next several years, it’s clear how consumers will benefit from the advancements in autonomous vehicles, smarter cities, and the availability of connected remote medical specialists.

Nowhere is this truer than for older individuals and people with disabilities, where advances in technology offer an approach to independent living that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago. Emerging technologies offer the unique opportunity to reduce social isolation and transport the wonders of the world to our living rooms with virtual reality and augmented reality. Equally as exciting, the potential of robotic technology to offer mobility and cognitive assistance is coming into clearer focus. These are just some of the amazing technologies present, as well as on the horizon for older adults and people with disabilities.

In order to continue to realize these new technological advancements, two emerging technologies will be crucial: 5G technology and artificial intelligence.

The global race to 5G is on, and the United States is starting to pull ahead. In fact, Cisco recently released its Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update (as part of the annual Visual Networking Index) and has projected that the United States will lead Asia and Europe for 5G.  According to Cisco’s analysis, “9% of mobile data connections in North America by 2022 will run on 5G, compared to 4% in Asia and 6.5% in Western Europe, despite concerns that Asian countries have been lapping the U.S. in 5G infrastructure installation. In 2022, Cisco also estimates the average 5G connection will generate nearly three times more traffic than the average 4G connection because of the faster data speeds.”

Per Network World, “The study said 5G growth will be driven by IoT applications – sensors and meters on the low end to autonomous cars on the high end.”

Equally important in continuing to pave this innovation path for consumers is AI, the technology enabling machines to learn from experience. Today, AI brings a whole host of tech benefits from voice activated devices in our homes to the benefit of more “intelligent” cars, refrigerators, and a whole host of other devices. While all consumers benefit, AI has been a game-changer for the accessibility community. For example, enabling a blind person to navigate space independently using connected (and soon 5G-enabled) glasses to pair with a remote, live navigator, who can communicate directly with the individual and help provide guidance on busy streets.

Pairing 5G and AI will provide consumers with exciting new opportunities for today, and for the future.

In order to ensure these technologies grow unhindered, smart policy is necessary. The FCC is rightly paving the path with important regulatory policies to move 5G forward by making it easier to install small cells. At the end of the day, faster deployment of 5G means more support for connected infrastructure and internet of things technology that can be used for more advanced smart cities – and more benefits for consumers. At the same time, it is vitally important for Congress to codify into law the basic consumer principles of an open internet, such as no network throttling and no content blocking or paid prioritization (fast lanes/slow lanes), for all our numerous new devices and data to run over these 5G networks. The greatest and fastest technology is still dependent on the rules that govern all companies operating on the internet. As we look to the future of technology and embrace the exciting opportunities coming down the pike, we must do so on sound policy ground. After all, that’s what will serve and benefit all consumers.

Debra Berlyn is the president of Consumer Policy Solutions and the executive director of Project GOAL, a project to raise awareness of both the benefits and challenges of innovative new technologies for the aging community.

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