Yesterday, Google and Verizon posted their joint policy proposal for internet regulation. The proposal suggests a legislative framework for Congress regarding our current “open internet.” An open internet means all bits are treated the same: internet service providers process every internet content provider’s information at the same speed–YouTube or Hulu, Wikipedia or Britannica. Though the Google Verizon plan is titled “a joint policy proposal for an open Internet,” it leaves some internet neutrality champions concerned; the plan does not address wireless service regulation and allows exceptions to the open internet standard for special broadband services.
We’ll break down the possible implications of this move, but first, a briefing on the basics.
What is an example of an alternative to our open internet? Internet content providers could pay more to get their information to you more quickly–like paying for a plane ticket instead of taking the bus. Since October of 2009, Verizon and Google have issued a shared statement of principles, submitted a joint filing to the FCC, and published a joint op-ed on net neutrality. But after talks between the two companies, a New York Times article and others asked if Google–a self-proclaimed proponent of net neutrality–might pay Verizon to get information to users more quickly, thus ending our net neutral system.
In April, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC–which can regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable–cannot regulate the way internet service providers conduct business. So instead the FCC, which has said it’s in favor of the current open internet, invited major internet players to a series of meetings to devise an agreement. But after weeks of private meetings, talks seem to be breaking down:
The F.C.C. in recent weeks has been trying to negotiate its own agreement in a series of private meetings with a group of big Internet service and content companies, including Google and Verizon, to ensure net neutrality. But the agency canceled a session scheduled for Thursday after the reports of the Google-Verizon talks. [An FCC spokesman] said in a statement that the effort “has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet, one that drives innovation, investment, free speech and consumer choice.” [New York Times]
The joint statement published yesterday says that Google and Verizon’s plan is meant to achieve two main goals:
1. Users should choose what content, applications, or devices they use, since openness has been central to the explosive innovation that has made the Internet a transformative medium.
2. America must continue to encourage both investment and innovation to support the underlying broadband infrastructure; it is imperative for our global competitiveness. [Google]
The whole issue has brought out varying opinions on whether the internet should even be neutral (one business writer comparing it to forcing FedEx and UPS to deliver every package at the same rate) but bigger questions aside, here are some thoughts from those concerned with yesterday’s announcement.
Though some say that it’s important not to hamper growing wireless communication, others question if leaving wireless communications out of any regulation plan will have repercussions for a competitive wireless future.
The other big news in today’s announcement was Google’s clear retreat on network neutrality when it comes to wireless networks. As Susan Crawford, professor at Cardozo Law School and an expert on all things Internet, explains: “That’s a huge hole, given the growing popularity of wireless services and the recent suggestion by the Commission that we may not have a competitive wireless marketplace.” [Salon]
One Equal Internet
Others question if the policy proposal in allowing specialized broadband services faster access may create two “internets”: one internet as we currently know it, and one internet of specialized services, what some have compared to a premium cable version of the net.
Internet meme-sters have long referred to “the internets” as a sort of inside joke, because of course there’s just one internet. But if Google’s and Verizon’s proposal goes through, we really would have two internets–one free, where Google pledges to stay, another paid, where services such as 3D television, remote medical procedures, and bandwidth-intensive games appear–for a price. [Wired]
Businesses vs Legislators
Some questions if Google and Verizon should really be proposing these policies (and legislative frameworks) in the first place. Some ask if the FCC should go ahead and reclassify broadband so they can regulate it, though such a movement is certain to bring lawsuits.
[A]ny proposal that Google and Verizon come up with will have to be approved by Congress. It would certainly serve the public interest better if Congress gathered input from more than just two companies and created a proposal of its own. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t shown much appetite for net neutrality legislation in the past, and we’re not optimistic about the near-term future. So it’s time for the commission to do the right thing and reclassify broadband. Yes, that will mean lawsuits. It will mean that net neutrality has a precarious future. But it has a precarious future right now, and the public can’t afford to wait. [San Francisco Chronicle]
FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps said in a statement yesterday of the policy plan is that it’s time to move from discussion to decision.
“Some will claim this announcement moves the discussion forward.That’s one of its many problems. It is time to move a decision forward—a decision to reassert FCC authority over broadband telecommunications, to guarantee an open Internet now and forever, and to put the interests of consumers in front of the interests of giant corporations.” [FCC]
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Image: flickr / tellumo