Will this latest Net Neutrality "compromise" stick?

August 9, 2010

Depending on what time of the day you might be monitoring the news, word out of D.C. changes with regard as to whether the Google/Verizon/FCC compromise on Net Neutrality is alive or dead. As of this past Friday, it was dead. But today word is breaking that Google and Verizon have struck upon a compromise (albeit outside of the FCC's involvement).

The details can be found here on Google's policy blog.

The highlights:

  • Phone and Cable TV companies that provide Internet services should be barred from slowing, blocking or charging to prioritize Internet traffic flowing over their regular broadband lines.
  • ISPs can charge for certain premium services which require packet prioritization, such as smart grid controls, telemedicine , etc.
  • Wireless broadband networks would not be subject to these restrictions.

The compromise isn't perfect, and both sides would still be on edge -- pro-Net Neutrality folks will still want more network management transparency and more government oversight while the anti-Net Neutrality people will bristle under the restrictive pricing for normal prioritization. Nevertheless, this is a good move by both companies to show that voluntary agreements are possible. This has been at the heart of most of our concern with Net Neutrality. If there is a viable market for Internet services (as there obviously is) then rational people will tend t! o make rational decisions -- particularly when billions of dol! lars are at risk.

This is coincidental because today's Seattle Times has a blurb about a Seattle-based tech company that supposedly conducts a more thorough monitoring of broadband speeds in the Puget Sound region. Called Ookla, it uses multiple connections to measure speeds.

Author Brier Dudley also interviewed an MIT research, Steve Bauer, on the need for speed. Bauer's response hints at why the Net Neutrality debate is so critical and why Net Neutrality as originally proposed would be horrendous for future broadband consumers (granted, I can't say for sure Bauer intended this meaning but this is my own opinion):

"[Bauer's] paper predicts that as broadband generally gets faster, we'll move away from focusing mostly on speed and develop more 'nuanced' characterization of broadband qua! lity, paying more attention to issues such as reliability and latency...In other words, once speeds get to a certain level, we'll stop worrying so much about megabits per second and focus more on the lag when you're videoconferencing or playing a game." (emphasis added)

That's exactly correct.

What so many of the Net Neutrality folks do not understand is that packet prioritization has to be allowed for certain applications. Receiving that email half a second later so that other packets of data can squeeze through first (imagine that packet of data being a remote surgery or telepresense meeting) does not degrade the quality of the connect for the person reading the email. Having latency issues for someone involved in remote surgery, or a videoconference, does degrade the experience. Not all data is the same and we have to allow for innovative products that require more data at a faster rate.

I think the best ! part of this news is that both companies decided that mobile broadband ! was too important to include in these new regulations. There's no doubt that bringing mobile broadband to the masses is best accomplished for the least amount of capital expenditures through wireless, whether it be 3G, 4G, LtE, WiMax, etc. Reaching that last 5% of folks who do not have access to broadband will be much easier with towers and radio signals than expensive fiber-to-the-home projects.

This news is just the start, however, as there is no indication that the FCC and the Free Press/Public Knowledge folks would go along with this scenario. It's not perfect, but it's better than Genachowski's Third Way, and far better than what the folks at FP/PK want. Let's see where this compromise goes.



re: Will this latest Net Neutrality "compromise" stick?

The proposal is one massive loophole that sets the stage for the corporate takeover of the Internet.

Real Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers can't discriminate between different kinds of online content and applications. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies. It's what makes sure the next Google, out there in a garage somewhere, has just as good a chance as any giant corporate behemoth to find its audience and thrive online.

What Google and Verizon are proposing is fake Net Neutrality. You can read their framework for yourself here (http://www.scribd.com/doc/35599242/Verizon-Google-Legislative-Framework-Proposal) or go here (http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/) to see Google twisting itself in knots about this suddenly "thorny issue." But here are the basics of what the two companies are proposing:

1. Under their proposal, there would be no Net Neutrality on wireless networks -- meaning anything goes, from blocking websites and applications to pay-for-priority treatment.

2. Their proposed standard for "non-discrimination" on wired networks is so weak that actions like Comcast's widely denounced blocking of BitTorrent would be allowed.

3. The deal would let ISPs like Verizon -- instead of Internet users like you -- decide which applications deserve the best quality of service. That's not the way the Internet has ever worked, and it threatens to close the door on tomorrow's innovative applications. (If RealPlayer had been favored a few years ago, would we ever have gotten YouTube?)

4. The deal would allow ISPs to effectively split the Internet into "two pipes" -- one of which would be reserved for "managed services," a pay-for-play platform for content and applications. This is the proverbial toll road on the information superhighway, a fast lane reserved for the select few, while the rest of us are stuck on the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

5. The pact proposes to turn the Federal Communications Commission into a toothless watchdog, left fruitlessly chasing consumer complaints but unable to make rules of its own. Instead, it would leave it up to unaccountable (and almost surely industry-controlled) third parties to decide what the rules should be.

If there's a silver lining in this whole fiasco it's that, last I checked anyway, it wasn't up to Google and Verizon to write the rules. That's why we have Congress and the FCC.

Certainly by now we should have learned -- from AIG, Massey Energy, BP, you name it -- what happens when we let big companies regulate themselves or hope they'll do the right thing.

We need the FCC -- with the backing of Congress and President Obama -- to step and do the hard work of governing. That means restoring the FCC's authority to protect Internet users and safeguarding real Net Neutrality once and for all.

Such a move might not be popular on Wall Street or even in certain corners of Silicon Valley, but it's the kind of leadership the public needs right now.