Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Is the Net Neutrality Plan by Google and Verizon For Real?

Last week, in response to this NYTimes article which claimed that Google and Verizon had struck a back-room deal whereby Google would pay millions to have its content delivered faster over Verizon's network relative to other websites, effectively killing the principle of net neutrality, an incredible amount of mud-slinging and blog-flaming ensued.

Now, news reports indicate that this back-room deal may not have taken place at all; or at least not in the way in which it was originally portrayed. Alan Davidson, Google director of public policy, and Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy, and communications, have posted a joint statement on Google's Public Policy Blog that aims to clear up any confusion about the two companies' recent discussions.

In it, they lay out the policy framework that they've submitted to the FCC which, on its surface, appears to support net neutrality principles for landline internet service, though carves out exceptions for wireless broadband. This public statement of support for net neutrality is encouraging, but the surprising extent to which Verizon was willing to go almost breeds skepticism.

Read it for yourself here.

Meanwhile, as maniacal bloggers continue to rant and rave on the subject, a more sober collection of viewpoints can be found on the NYTimes website, where established leading scholars have shared their more serious reflections.

Different sides of the debate are presented, which is always a good thing, especially in an issue area where most people are largely uneducated about the nuances. The point-of-view that resonates most is that of Colombia professor Tim Wu who notes that firms like Verizon and Google have such power that, if they were to strike a deal that effectively killed net neutrality, they would then be able to decide what firms succeed or fail -- by making sites load faster or slower, or end up on page 10 of search results.

"The greatest danger of the fast lane is that it completely changes competition on the net. The advantage goes not to the firm that's actually the best, but the one that makes the best deal with AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast. Had there been a 2-tier Internet in 1995, likely, Barnes and Noble would have destroyed Amazon, Microsoft Search would have beaten out Google, Skype would have never gotten started -- the list goes on and on. We'd all be the losers."

If the joint policy framework that Google and Verizon submitted to the FCC is genuine, both in content as well as intent, then that would be a strong showing of support for net neutrality indeed. If it's a smokescreen, then it's business innovation and consumers who will ultimately suffer the repercussions. Either way, one thing is certain... without legislation that officially protects net neutrality, it's only a matter of time before some back-room deal does emerge.


At 5:00 PM, Blogger Fitz said...

Its great to have you back blogging regularily. good writing as always.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

thanks, fitz. summer hiatus. you know how it goes :-)


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