The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has joined the FREE the MIBS (or #FREEtheMIBs) campaign as an advocate becoming the second state department of transportation to sign on to the effort to publicly open management information bases – or MIBs. Often kept proprietary by the manufacturer, MIBs are the common language protocols used to communicate between central traffic management systems and ITS devices including traffic signal controllers. By keeping MIBs proprietary these manufacturers can extend legacy contracts for years and keep them sole-sourced, locking out more cost-effective and innovative equipment because their products will not communicate with those from other companies.
Tom Stiles, executive vice president of Urban Solutions at Q-Free and #FREEtheMIBs founding partner, says Oregon DOT’s commitment validates the cause as it gains traction among public and private organizations alike. “We know our case is on the side of public good. Collaborating with our peers in the traffic signal control industry is essential to creating a safe, secure, and reliable transportation network for the smart cities of today and tomorrow,” he said. “With Oregon following close on the heels of Utah DOT, we have two of the most forward-thinking and advanced transportation agencies in the nation on board and fully anticipate more joining soon.”
Doug Spencer, ODOT intelligent transportation systems (ITS) standards engineer, says sharing MIBs is a critical step toward providing safe and secure mobility for the motoring public; that also has the potential to drastically reduce taxpayer costs in software integration. “At ODOT, we have long required vendors to provide their MIBs as part of our contracting process. Having access to the manufacturer-specific MIBs prevents us from being held captive by a single vendor and promotes open competition.” Describing one of the first traffic control projects in which Oregon DOT demanded open standards for its variable message signs, Spencer says the results were immediate and profound. “Requiring the National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol (NTCIP) and supplying vendor specific MIBs, we went from having a single bidder on our contract to five or six and saw costs drop by nearly 50 percent,” he said. “The benefits didn’t stop there either – in addition to the price going down, the quality went up.”
Stiles says the implications of freed MIBs go beyond cost savings. “Open standards not only promote competition, they drive innovation and customer service. This is a collaborative campaign by the industry, for the industry, to help start a dialogue between agencies, the private sector, academia, and the public.”
Frequently contacted by agencies across the nation looking to emulate Oregon’s integrated traffic operations, Spencer sees the campaign as a great platform for educating the industry on the benefits of open standards, adding that “innovation drives functionality and FREE the MIBS plays right into that realm.”
Some manufacturers are pushing back against the #FREEtheMIBS campaign, citing cybersecurity issues. Spencer says their arguments are not valid. “Security is not an inherent part of the National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol that regulates MIBs for traffic control devices. The NTCIP standards, which can be publicly downloaded online, simply create an agreed upon language that traffic systems use to communicate. Having vendors openly share their data definitions for advanced functions does not do anything to put citizens more at risk. Traffic control devices need network security just like any other IT asset. It’s up to agencies to secure these communications with the policies and rules established by their IT departments. It is commonplace for network equipment manufacturers to provide MIBs for their equipment. It should be commonplace for the transportation industry too.”
Less than six-months old, #FREEtheMIBs is already shaking up the industry with advocates from both the public and private sectors joining the cause. Leading industry publications have already written articles about the campaign and new members are coming on board every week. For more information on how to participate in #FREEtheMIBS or to start a conversation please visit us at FREEtheMIBS.org.