The arrangement/ agreement drawn up between Google and Verizon was posted today amidst much fanfare and/or derision. The full proposal can be read here. It begins with a statement of principles concerning consumer protection meant to ensure freedom for anyone using the internet to share unprohibited and unharmful materials.
Consumer Protections: A broadband Internet access service provider would be prohibited from preventing users of its broadband Internet access service from–
(1) sending and receiving lawful content of their choice;
(2) running lawful applications and using lawful services of their choice; and
(3) connecting their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network or service, facilitate theft of service, or harm other users of the service.
The statement then drifts toward statements about how internet service providers (ISPs) can and should develop ways “to engage in reasonable network management.” What constitutes ‘reasonable network management’ is where the details are – and perhaps the devil.
Management of an ISP’s network consists of ‘ensuring quality service’ and finding ways ‘to reduce or mitigate the effects of congestion on its network.’ Companies should also be encouraged to expand and differentiate value-added services: “Such other services would have to be distinguishable in scope and purpose from broadband Internet access service, but could make use of or access Internet content, applications or services and could include traffic prioritization.” It’s the ‘traffic prioritization’ that has the net-neutralists up-in-arms.
Josh Silver of ‘Free Press’ and SaveTheInternet.com posted at TheHuffingtonPost.com’s tech blog that “The deal marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as you know it. Since its beginnings, the Net was a level playing field that allowed all content to move at the same speed, whether it’s ABC News or your uncle’s video blog. That’s all about to change, and the result couldn’t be more bleak for the future of the Internet, for television, radio and independent voices.” Other reactions were pooled by The Huffington Post and excerpted here. Most, not surprisingly given the Post’s progressive stance, see Google and Verizon trying discretely to pry loopholes into a vague statement about the value of an ‘open’ (though not ‘neutral’) internet of the near future.
The centerist Wall Street Journal argued that economics might doom complete neutrality, though that might not necessarily mean the end of a level playing field:
Net neutrality was always a contentious issue, and, idealism aside, there were straightforward economic issues at work. For media companies, it was about getting access to telco networks at a rate that was advantageous to them. The aim for the telecom companies remains to extract as much return from the network as it can get away with, without upsetting regulators and customers. And one of its ways of fighting its corner is not to build infrastructure if it thinks it will be given away cheaply to others. …
Therefore, the end result of Net Neutrality 2.0 looks like being something not a million miles away from an old-fashioned interconnect agreement, with a menu of service offerings and some form of network usage tariff.
If I’m right, the telcos will do OK; big media very OK, small media not OK.
Many would argue that ‘small media not doing OK’ is not OK – that the greatest gift the net has given us is the opportunity for a protester in Baghdad or a passerby in Chicago or a student in Beijing or an artist in London to get their messages out with the same opportunity as corporations like Viacom or Disney.
Even Daniel Indiviglio of TheAtlantic.com, a writer & investor with plenty of support for business interests against government regulation, seems more worried than the WSJ:
And this is just the beginning. As we become more and more dependent on the Internet and our mobile devices, we’ll become slaves to the ISPs. We’re a culture of information junkies, and we need our fix. The ISPs have already given us a taste — the first time is free (or at least, relatively cheap). But as the industry evolves, they will be able to slowly increase their profits. And considering that their service permeates every aspect of our lives, there isn’t much holding them back.
But Mr. Indiviglio’s post also highlights the difficulties of figuring out who will pay for what, because he sees the greatest change coming to those who are willing to pay to receive content: “In terms of the amount of data customers consume, we’re already seeing AT&T enter the unfamiliar territory of usage-based fees. The company has quickly discovered that a handful of data hogs can ruin the fun of everyone else. The only way to restrain such a market is to price your product accordingly.” (I.e., the more you want of videos to download, the more you should have to pay for that usage of bandwidth.)
Whether you would agree with Adam Green that Google is Evil now, or not, the internet is about to change notably, and the corporate hosts will direct (dictate?) that change. Tomorrow we will offer a couple of our efforts to clarify ways one might see prioritization take place on line, and what will be the likely effects of such prioritization. But remember this: The Supreme Court has lifted the ban on corporate spending on political campaigns. If Google and Verizon are not happy with Congressional responses to their framework now, they will make sure they get the support they need by Thanksgiving 2012…