Looks like President Obama cares about the IoT

Looks like President Obama cares about the IoT

Looks like President Obama cares about the IoT
Looks like President Obama cares about the IoT

A new era of federal flavouring to foster IoT advancement?

The US Department of Commerce (DoC) wants to be a digital entity with its fingers deep in the Internet of Things (IoT) pie. An all American apple pie, presumably.

This digital lustfulness should come as no surprise if we look at the DoC’s guiding tenets and mission. The self-stated raison d’être of the department is: to promote job creation and improved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness and sustainable development.

The US DoC’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA, not USDoCNTIA, thankfully) has been tasked with conducting an analysis to assess what role – if any – the US Government should play in the IoT’s development.

According to US government’s Federal Register journal, the IoT also presents challenges, which in turn have begun to generate initial thinking and policy responses, both inside and outside of government.

IoT health, safety & security issues

“A number of Federal agencies — for example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — have already begun grappling with potential health, safety and security issues arising from the connection of cars and medical devices to the Internet,” reads the register.

With safety among the forefront of current areas for concern, the US government warns that country-specific strategies to IoT development threaten the possibility of “a global patchwork of approaches” to the IoT technology layers currently being developed. The government thinks that this patchwork could potentially increase costs and delay the launch of new products and service.

You might like to read: US intelligence chief says connected devices could be used for government spying

IoT physics from Particle

Internet of Business put this story to Zach Supalla, CEO and co-founder of Particle, an IoT device platform startup. Supalla asserts that the issues that the government is raising in the IoT (a patchwork of incompatible standards and protocols, which may lead to short-term negative consequences) are true.

“However, the private market is already working to address those concerns, because private companies also want to make sure that IoT products work well, work well together and are secure. Therefore, while the risks and concerns are real, I don’t believe there’s need for further regulation, as the private market is incentivised to fix these problems on its own. It’s simply a result of the youth of the industry,” he said.

Supalla accepts that that being said, there are definitely opportunities for the government to invest in and support the growing IoT market.

“We see tons of great municipal applications of IoT tech, such as monitoring and providing transparency into municipal projects and public spaces, improving efficiency of public goods and services (traffic, waste management, etc.)

I’d love to see more explicit investment by the government, which could speed up development in the industry while improving the quality and efficiency of the services that the government provides to its citizens,” he added.

The US government is worried about areas like Internet governance issues relating to the IoT. The team behind this analysis have also asked what factors can impede the growth of the IoT outside of America (such as data or service localisation requirements).

Essentially these concerns come down not so much to some higher level of IT altruism (although any government would probably attest to wider tech-philanthropy if it could) in the pursuit of global interconnectivity, the worries are more directly aligned to asses where there could be constraints upon the ability of U.S. companies to provide those IoT related services on a global basis.

Wael Elrifai, director of enterprise solutions at Pentaho spoke to Internet of Business in relation to this story to say, “The greatest barrier to IoT growth and development is lack of common protocols and standards so government should join forces with the private sector to tackle these first.”

Elrifai says that he recommends the DoC start with a few ‘lighthouse’ projects, “Applying automation technology to free up two key process bottlenecks – onboarding new data sources and ontology (formally naming, defining categories and relationships). One it solves these, it then has a solid foundation upon which it becomes much easier to scale and grow.”

Questions from Congress

The US Department of Commerce (DoC) is asking the following questions of itself, industry and (quite frankly) anyone else who cares enough to listen in.

  • What role should the Department of Commerce play within the federal government in helping to address the challenges and opportunities of IoT?
  • How should government and the private sector collaborate to ensure that infrastructure, policy, technology and investment are working together to best fuel IoT growth and development?
  • Would an overarching strategy, such as those deployed in other countries, be useful in this space? If the answer is yes, what should that strategy entail?

You might like to read: UK government announces new £24 million Internet of Things research centre

God bless American IoT

So this initiative is very much focused on the American economy’s ability to respond to the challenges and opportunities thrown up by the IoT. Similar initiatives and studies have already been instigated in the UK such as the £10m Internet of Things competition for UK cities in 2015 — and the report by the UK government chief scientific adviser entitled The Internet of Things: making the most of the Second Digital Revolution.

According to the UK government report cited above, “It is crucial that the scientists, programmers and entrepreneurs who are leading the research, development and creation of the new [IoT] businesses implement the technology responsibly. Equally, policy makers can support responsible innovation and decide whether and how to legislate or regulate as necessary. Everyone involved in the Internet of Things should be constantly scanning the horizon to anticipate and prevent, rather than deal with unforeseen consequences in retrospect.”

Safe governmental hands

Similar initiatives, mandates and programmes have also been seen in the United Arab Emirates and other European nations. Every government wants to be seen as a visionary hands-on developer and implementer of the Internet of Things.

As public bodies now get more involved, the impact upon standards, networks, regulations and legislation could be impacted. Is it time to worry or does the government (any government) really know what it’s doing when it comes to the IoT?

Answer: no (they don’t), not yet, that’s why so many studies are underway, so please connect with care.

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I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, I am also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, my own editorial purview has also broadened. I have spent much of the last ten years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management. I have an extensive background in communications starting in print media, newspapers and also television. If anything, this gives me enough man-hours of cynical world-weary experience to separate the spin from the substance, even when the products are shiny and new.