UPDATE: Today (Tuesday) the FCC voted to pass the net neutrality regulations mentioned toward the bottom of this post. The rules include the provisions that wireless and traditional Internet be treated separately, and generally made everyone unhappy. However, expect a fight in Congress to either overturn the rules or strip the FCC of its authority in this sphere.
Behind closed doors, wireless providers are talking about a future that’s a net neutrality advocate’s worst nightmare.
Last week the tech companies Allot Communications and Openet, which provide products for large carriers like AT&T and Verizon, demonstrated new products in a web seminar, some details of which have leaked out. The PowerPoint slides detail a plan to monitor your online behavior and charge you for your use of certain applications. For example:
In the seventh slide of the … PowerPoint, a Vodafone user would be charged two cents per MB for using Facebook, three euros a month to use Skype and $0.50 monthly for a speed-limited version of YouTube. But traffic to Vodafone’s services would be free, allowing the mobile carrier to create video services that could undercut NetFlix on price. [Wired]
“Don’t track me, bro!”
If you’ve long been a fan of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” registry, allowing people to opt out of telemarketing campaigns, the good news is that FTC has taken the first steps toward such a setup for the Internet. Jon Leibowitz, the FTC’s chairman, pitched in a report this week (pdf) the idea of implementing some kind of “do not track” option that would allow people to easily say no to having their online behavior tracked and used for purposes like behavior-based advertising. The bad news is, both legally and conceptually, is that it would be a more challenging idea to implement than “Do Not Call.”
Rather than submitting their names on a centrally maintained list, consumers would use a tool on their Web browsers to signal that they do not wish to be tracked or to receive targeted advertising. Leibowitz said Google, Microsoft and Mozilla have all experimented with do-not-track technology on their browsers. [Washington Post]
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]