Google-Verizon Joint Statement Presages End to Net Neutrality
By Jeff Sayre
If you design websites, run a small web-based business, make money from blogging, or are launching a startup, the level playing field of the Internet is about to get very bumpy. If you think that mobile-based services are the future and are catering to the wireless crowd, then be prepared for a game-changing shift.
Today, Google and Verizon issued a joint statement on their net neutrality compromise and proposal. In a previous article, I discussed net neutrality, the rumored Google deal, and the need for an open-source Internet.
In their joint policy statement, Google and Verizon outline seven key elements as they call them. In their second element, they clearly state that they are for net neutrality as it pertains to the wired Internet (referred to as wireline). But pay particular attention to the fifth and sixth elements. This is where the issue of overall net neutrality comes into question.
In their fifth element, they make room for the possibility of “additional, differentiated online services” as long as they are “distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules.” In other words, since no one can predict the amazing “new” products and services that will come into existence as the Internet evolves, they want to make allowances for the future possibility of a new class of access service that is different from the really-old “traditional broadband Internet access services.”
What does this mean in simple language? It means that new, unforeseen online access services could in essence offer priority throughput for a price. It means for the right price, that these so called “additional, differentiated online services” could charge premiums to have packets travel faster down their pipelines.
Finally, look at the sixth element in their joint proposal. Google and Verizon are unequivocally asserting that there is a difference between the wired and wireless Internet. They clearly are stating that net neutrality should not apply to the wireless Internet.
This is absurd as there is just one Internet. The access method does not the Internet make. It is called Internet access, after all. Should we now differentiate between the flavors of Internet access. How about twisted-pair access is different than fiber access, that twisted-pair access is clearly traditional but fiber is new and non-traditional. Fiber would then fall under the fifth element’s jurisdiction. This would allow Verizon, for instance, to charge to rate limit the packet traffic traveling across their FiOS fiber network. Perhaps this is what they intend as it can be argued that fiber is not wire and that fiber is not (yet) a “traditional” access method.
Thanks to Google, who used to be very clear that net neutrality applied across the entire Internet with no exceptions, this issue has become even murkier and true net neutrality more unlikely. Under Google’s and Verizon’s vision, the Internet will no longer be a single, nebulous, all-encompassing entity. There will be many Internets, each defined by how data is transmitted.
The promise of net neutrality and net equality will depend upon which Internet you surf. In fact, the Google-Verizon deal may put the issue of net neutrality to rest once and for all. Net neutrality will be remembered as something way back in the days of the traditional wired broadband Internet. The days when there was just one Internet.
This is an ominous portent, a clearly disturbing sign that a few of the most powerful players want to renovate the Internet landscape, turning it into a tollway instead of a freeway. Whereas access to the freeway has rarely been free, once your data hit the freeway, they had the same travel rights as any other data packet. But that may not be true going forward.
Unfortunately, if this proposal becomes a reality, the Internet that once spawned dorm-room disruptive startups, the Internet that spurred unfettered innovation, the Internet that offered a level playing field to all participants no matter the size of their bankroll, may very well be a thing of the past.
As I said in my previous article on this issue:
This could very well result in many small players–individual bloggers, Web-based startups, small traditional brick-and-mortar companies with online stores–from being kicked out of the game. There would be no realistic way in which small entities with equally-small or non-existent budgets, could compete for access with a well-funded major company.
Professional bloggers, small web-based businesses, open source projects, and the people who make their living providing services to these entities (web designers, theme builders, plugin developers, e-commerce and SEO consultants) could very well see their business evaporate as the cost to compete for equal data access with their well-heeled corporate counterparts would be prohibitive. Venture capitalists and angel investors could see their investments in startups suffer as more and more of the runway would be required to gain acceptable data throughput.
The Internet is quickly evolving into a mobile-preferred space. Many startups, bloggers, and web-based businesses are scrambling to make their services wireless friendly, or are creating wireless-only based services. If wireless Internet traffic becomes exempt from net neutrality laws and the Intertube’s big gatekeepers are allowed to rate limit throughput, then focusing on the wireless-access side of their business could very well be a big mistake. Without big pockets, there is no realistic way that these small players can compete for equal access.
So, if you care about your Internet rights and the freedom for your data to travel at the same rate as all other data, then speak up. Write your elected officials, blog about this issue, create websites to organize against the Google-Verizon pact, and get ready to fight the oncoming war against net neutrality. Either we stand our ground and fight for data equality on the Internet or risk that our businesses, innovation, and freedoms get sucked into the maelstrom.
August 11, 2010: The New York Times published an article discussing the reactions of Facebook, eBay, and Amazon to the Google-Verizon deal to end net neutrality.
August 13, 2010: AT&T published its views on this issue on their Public Policy Blog. Read their post, Wireless is Different. Their stance is disappointing but not a surprise.
August 14, 2010: A group of protesters rallied outside the Googleplex, showing their support for net neutrality and dismay at Google’s partnership with Verizon.