Google and Verizon: The End of Net Neutrality? Not So Fast.
Last Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Google and Verizon Wireless were closing in on a deal that tested the boundaries of the FCC and threatened to drastically change the internet as we have known it. The two titans of their respective industries had reportedly agreed to “speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege” (NY Times 8/4/10).
Theoretically, Verizon could speed up access to content from Google sites like YouTube in return for a fee charged to Google. This would create a division between the average user and the elite who could afford to pay a premium for higher quality service. This story hinted at what would be the fundamental shift that proponents of net neutrality have feared for years. But was the story truly worth the hype?
Both companies vehemently denied the NY Times report, with Google (@GooglePubPolicy) tweeting: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”
Similarly, Verizon Wireless dismissed the story, with a company executive explaining: “The NYT article regarding conversations between Google and Verizon is mistaken. It fundamentally misunderstands our purpose. As we said in our earlier FCC filing, our goal is an Internet policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation. To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect” on the company’s Public Policy blog.
In a joint public policy proposal released on Monday, Google and Verizon announced what they dubbed as a legal framework for potential traffic regulation and quality of service policies. Most importantly, they explicitly insisted upon complete transparency in any regulation of traffic and content distribution. The true core of the controversy surrounding this proposal revolved around the concept of net neutrality and whether or not Google and Verizon had turned their back on their stated desires to maintain a fair and open internet. The newest developments reveal that the policy proposal won’t give net neutrality advocates much ammunition against the two companies when it comes to personal computer broadband use. Wireless broadband connections, however, may be a different story.
The top executives at Google and Verizon attributed the lack of application of this proposal in the mobile sector to the “still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace”. This has some proponents of net neutrality arguing that the proposal intentionally ignores the future, allowing the companies to forge profitable, non-net neutral alliances as the mobile markets mature down the line.
To date, nothing has been implemented and any legislation is likely to take considerable time to push through Congress. I don’t believe either bigh-profile company would risk violating the trust of their customers or risk exposing their brands to further scrutiny by concealing back door deals for short-term maintenance of public perception. If Google and Verizon are adamant that they are committed to an open internet, we should take their word for it. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and we will ultimately judge this entire situation as it develops and matures.
What are your thoughts about the proposal and about net neutrality in general? Share your opinions with your comments below!