Posted by Jerrod @ 11:00 pm on August 17th 2010

Google flipflops on net neutrality: FCC to finally act?

Last week it emerged that Google and Verizon had collaborated on a proposal for establishing particular rules and regulations that would more or less preserve net neutrality, which seems like a pretty good thing, at least to those of us who realize how important net neutrality is to the internet as we know it. But there was a little catch, namely that these proposals only applied to wired networks. Wireless networks were to be explicitly exempted from the neutrality protections and would thus be allowed to arbitrarily limit access and create “tiers” of service for wireless networks.

This is seen as a bad for many reasons. All information on the internet travels between computers as data packets. These data packets are all treated exactly the same, regardless of what kind of data it is, who is requesting, or who is providing it. This is fundamentally what makes the internet so great. Some content providers and ISP, however, want to break this core functionality of the internet and introduce a system whereby, for example, those who pay more, get more. This includes internet customers who would get preferential treatment when using the internet (i.e. Top tier users get to load their pages first) but also can be used to give preferential treatment to content providers (i.e. websites who pay more will get better performance or, the nightmare scenario, those who don’t pay, won’t load at all).

The discriminatory abilities that would be introduced by net neutrality would destroy the internet as we know it, and the worst hit would be innovative uses. Imagine how something like Youtube or Twitter or even Facebook would have been impacted if they weren’t “preferred” content providers. Abandoning net neutrality would create huge barriers of entry to new uses of the internet, shift power away from end users by killing point-to-point access, and empower ISP and other large content providers to essentially control the internet. It would give deep pocketed entrenched interests (for example, Microsoft) the power to “promote” (= protect) its search engine at the time when an upstart called Google was taking market share.

Right now, wireless internet is a huge domain for innovation. With the introduction of Android and iPhone smartphones, more and more new ways of using the internet are being developed. It’s wide open and habits haven’t been established as much as they have on desk/laptop computers. Trying to introduce “preferential packet shaping” (i.e. non-neutral internet access) on computers might meet with a backlash, as the difference is likely to be rather noticeable. But for handheld devices, as popular as they are, there are so few people using them and its such a new way of accessing the net, now is the time to make fundamental changes to how that system works.

Google has always, at least till now, been a huge defender of net neutrality, so this change has gotten people pretty riled up, (or in some cases just a little riled up.). It really is a big chance in their position, though, and even though seems happy, which says a lot about who’s interests this kind of proposal is in).

It’s a political issue, not least because of the language typically used by anti-neutrality PR schmucks who continually portray the effort to protect net neutrality via legislation as “onerous regulation.” This is pure tripe, plain and simple. Any legislation protecting net neutrality would only accomplish one thing, namely formalize the structure of the internet that has served us so well thus far. Yes, it would prevent companies from breaking up (and by definition, limiting) our access, but that isn’t “onerous” for anyone who likes to use the internet. It keeps the internet fair, free, and open.

So what does Congress thing? It’s the purview of the FCC and some in Congress are calling on it to finally act. It’s a nice summary of the stakes of net neutrality and they want the FCC to treat wired and wireless networks the same AND regulate them in a way that protects open access to the net. Ars Technica has more discussion of why Congress itself isn’t likely to pass any legislation on this issue. They mention the high number of House Democrats opposed to FCC net neutrality regulation, but I’m convinced these positions are uninformed, or rather informed only by the anti-net neutrality lobby that is rather active and doing a good job of portraying net neutrality as a “bad thing™”.

The debate has kind of lagged over the summer. Here’s hoping that this Google flip-flop is enough to reinvigorate discussions on the importance of complete net neutrality, across the spectrum, and we finally get it legislated and can put it to rest.

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you for mentioning preferential routing and content providers. Most of the debate I see seems to focus around the home user end, and anyone who thinks that is the real target market of preferential routing is a fool. The whole issue is really about whether or not Verizon or whomever can sell preferential routing to MS or Google, Amazon or some other online retailer, thus giving them the title of ‘fastest’. The idea that it somehow opens up the market is equally foolish, because packets pass through many different providers routers, meaning any company wishing to truly have preferential treatment will have to purchase it from ALL of the providers. The end users are only considered in this as a market to be cornered. What is more, it removes any incentive to increase bandwidth, as preferential routing matters MORE when there is less bandwidth.

    Keep it neutral stupids, that isn’t onerous regulation, that’s the best way to keep it flexible and growing.

    Comment by Eric — 8/21/2010 @ 7:52 pm

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