O'Rielly Agrees: NCTA Is Primed to Be Smart Cities Leader

Cable operators got an encouraging word from Federal Communications Commission member Michael O'Rielly for their proposition that they are a potential prime mover in the smart cities of today and tomorrow, but the agency also had a warning about what cities might do with all the data that underlies the "smart cities" concept.

So-called smart cities are using info from sensors and devices to boost public safety, health care, mobility, productivity and overall quality of life.

O'Rielly's shout out and warning came in a speech to Charter Communications' Partnering with Communities Today to Build the Smart Cities of Tomorrow event in Washington Tuesday (Oct. 30).

O'Rielly said fiber would be the key to smart cities, and cited a report released last week by NCTA–The Internet & Television Association, calling it "a compelling argument that cable operators are in a prime position to provide [those fiber] resources and be a lead participant in Smart Cities."

He said the market is taking notice of cable as a player and "acting accordingly, as fiber networks are receiving increased attention and interest from Wall Street to communications company boardrooms, with cable enterprise plays becoming more of a focus in that analysis."

The commissioner cited the FCC's vote to open up the 6-GHz band to unlicensed as one of the things that will help meet the spectrum demands for smart cities.

And while O'Rielly was high on the potential of smart cities, he also raised a caution flag over data collection. He signaled he was more concerned about a governmental Big Brother getting its hands on reams of data as opposed to businesses.

"It always surprises me when privacy advocates, either domestically or internationally, are willing to take to the streets over a company seeking to use consumer-driven data for commercial purposes," he said. "The real worry for privacy advocates and the public should be the combination of data with police and military powers, and the state's potential to use data for the purpose of controlling or punishing its citizenry. How governments can create a comfort level with the potential privacy implications of smart cities remains to be seen, and represents an increasingly heavy lift."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.