How New Policies Are Driving Our Connected Roadways

If you asked me whether I would consider our current roads connected, I’d say yes. But as connected as they could be? Not even close.

We’re only starting to realize the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect cars to each other and their surroundings. This connectivity will help assure and accelerate the adoption of automated vehicles.

In collaboration with the private sector, governments at all levels have key roles to play. In some instances, the complex regulatory environment has slowed the adoption of connected vehicle technologies.

However, we’re making active strides toward tackling these challenges and unlocking future opportunities.

How we got here: Convergence of IoT platforms
IoT platforms have spurred the potential for countless government and commercial services — from digital kiosks to smart street lighting. These new IoT offerings are converging with longstanding Intelligent Transportation System elements, which are key to modernizing transportation and incorporating vehicle automation.

As a result, there are many policy considerations to address — from cybersecurity and privacy to infrastructure funding and public private partnership (PPP) models. The policy environment that governments set will help steer the course toward fully connecting our roadways.

Where we are today: Major policy initiatives underway
Transportation and commercial communications infrastructures have many common requirements, from access and rights-of-way to electricity needs. Here’s a look at four key interrelated policy initiatives and how they’ll help drive coordination between these infrastructure domains:

Smart Cities: Smart cities infrastructure plays an important role in connected vehicles being able to communicate with the things around them. To truly realize these benefits, we are working to build a digital infrastructure. Federal and local governments are simultaneously partnering with the private sector to draw up relevant policies related to traffic and parking regulations as smart city technologies continue to advance.

Small Cell Deployments: Small cells are lightweight, low power, precisely targeted solutions that can cover a radius up to 1,500 feet. They can be readily deployed to specific locations, and will be necessary for 5G and in turn, many connected car capabilities. The industry is leading these deployments, but municipalities, property owners and organizations will need to improve regulatory costs and permitting solutions before we can truly realize this technology.

FirstNet for First Responders: FirstNet is the country’s first nationwide communications platform dedicated to public safety to help first responders connect to the critical information they need every day and in every emergency. With this new network comes interoperability advancements and infrastructure upgrades that we are planning in lockstep with public safety and government officials. The FirstNet build is well underway as are infrastructure policy initiatives to support it.

Federal Infrastructure Initiatives: This is broken down into two parts:

  • Communications: Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are taking action to ensure that high-speed broadband Internet access continues to be deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.
  • Transportation: The US Department of Transportation administers a wide variety of programs that address critical funding and issues facing highways and bridges. It is a key part of the Administration’s overall infrastructure plans.

Where we are going: Finding the synergies
Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications — the capability that allows cars to talk to their surroundings — is another critical technology for the future of connected cars. Both V2I technology and small cell deployments will require advancements in infrastructure, and there are potential synergies between them.

Some backhaul infrastructure could support both. The complexities and costs of deploying a network of V2I Road Side Units (RSUs) are high, and could be redundant with commercial networks already being deployed with private capital. Those commercial networks will still need access to transportation infrastructure and rights-of-way to provide both V2I and commercial capabilities.

Smart city deployments are beginning to look to new PPP models to jointly support smart city and small cell deployments, which together will help enable connected vehicles. Transportation-based PPP models are being increasingly emphasized by the US Department of Transportation as a means to finance state and local transportation projects. And the FirstNet PPP model for public safety communications will help to support transportation and connected cars as well.

What we have to get right: Security
A final, critical factor in realizing the benefits of fully connected and automated vehicles is ensuring the security of the vehicles, as well as protecting the privacy of vehicle owners and users. It’s vital that the policies we put in place enable connected and automated vehicles — and it’s equally important that the networks and platforms with which they communicate are secure and safe.

By establishing the proper policy environment, government entities will play a significant role in helping the industry protect against cybersecurity risks and ensure the safety of everyone on the road.

For more about AT&T’s current initiatives in the connected car space and the current policy environment, visit our site. In addition, Heavy Reading analyst Steve Bell discussed many of these topics during a recent webinar on The Connected Car.

Jeff Stewart is the assistant vice president for Public Policy at AT&T.

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