Yet Another "What the Google/Verizon Proposal Means for the Internet" Post
I've seen dozens of articles telling me how Google and Verizon have changed the Internet forever. As it's the popular thing to do this week, here is my take on the proposal:
What it has done
Not much. Despite what some of the headlines say, the Google/Verizon proposal is not the law of the land nor of the Internet. It isn't even an agreement of action between the two companies. It is simply a policy proposal that they think Congress should consider. Google and Verizon have stated their opinion, which is something that everybody can do.
- Adds to the Discussion - At least someone's talking.
- Puts Pressure on Congress - This proposal is targeted at Congress and its begging for legislative resolution that should have occurred years ago.
- Non-Discrimination - Under the proposal an ISP will not have the ability to discriminate among legal content on the Internet.
- Transparency - ISPs have to make it plainly clear to consumers what network practices are occurring that may alter their Internet experience. w00t for informing consumers.
- Regular Federal Reports - The Internet is vital economic, social, and democratic infrastructure; I agree that the GAO and FCC should be regularly reporting to the government on Internet use and what needs to be improved.
- A Neutered FCC - Not surprisingly, the industry proposal presents a more hands off FCC. In cases of consumer protection the FCC is asked to defer to independent Internet governance groups and is striped of rule making power. And, as discussed below, the proposal does not allow the FCC to oversee certain Internet markets.
- Wireless - Google and Verizon are asking for an unregulated wireless market based on the fact that wireless is more competitive than wired. This is true, but a market of four providers is not going to provide the choice that is required for an unregulated market to serve consumer needs. Also, there is no guarantee that the market may not coalesce in the future and raise the need for government oversight.
- "Additional Online Services" - Defined vaguely enough that it could be almost anything, the proposal allows for a new and fairly unregulated market of Internet service. While the services have to differ from broadband access, they can access Internet content and applications, which begs the question of how these services would actually differ from regular broadband. This is the provision that has drawn the most criticism as a threat to net neutrality, and there may be some merit to that criticism. However, it isn't really clear what Google and Verizon are intending by this clause, so for now the only thing I'll say is that it is poorly worded and really needs to be clarified.
- "Legal" Language - Insisting that non-discrimination is limited to legal content and legal applications raises the questions of how ISPs will determine the legality of content (deep packet inspection?) or what ISPs can do with content or applications of unknown legality, such as encrypted BitTorrent traffic. Also, this potentially places ISPs in the position of enforcing law, which I find deeply troubling because private companies are not accountable to citizens or the courts in the way that the police are and they may hold conflicts of interest by enforcing law in an area in which they competitively seek business.
- Infrastructure - Aside from the Universal Service Fund and Intercarrier Compensation, the proposal doesn't really address a plan for improving broadband infrastructure. The net-neutrality debate is linked with broadband deployment and improvement, so I would really like to see a goal or plan for infrastructure included in any net-neutrality proposal. Also, I think including a plan would alleviate the concern among some that the proposed Additional Services market will lead ISPs to not invest in the open Internet.
Google's Neutrality Sell Out?
This proposal seems to favor ISPs, which leads me to believe that either Verizon had the upper hand in writing this proposal or Google doesn't care about the debate because they have the resources to succeed in any future Internet. In either case, what is clear is that consumers should not be relying on a content provider to protect their rights on the Internet.
So that's what I think, but honestly you don't need to waste your time reading mine or anybody else's thoughts on the proposal. You can read the actual, plain-English, two page proposal here. I encourage you to read it and to tell your Congresspeople what you think of it.