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Google and Verizon proposal threatens the open Internet

By in Opinions

“Welcome to the new decade: Java is a restricted platform; Google is evil, Apple is a monopoly, and Microsoft are the underdogs.”
-Blogger Phil Nash

They give us free Internet services that we can hardly do without. They champion for a free and open Internet. They make great products and give consumers an alternative to Apple or Microsoft.

Sometimes it seems Google can do no wrong. Until now.

Net neutrality is one of those buzzwords floating around the Internet these days. Basically, it’s the idea that the Internet should be free and open.

Technology industry expert Leo Laporte from podcast This Week in Tech, says he prefers the term “anti-discrimination” to net neutrality. He thinks information on the internet should be seen as “a bit is a bit; no bit on the Internet should be treated differently than another bit.”

Basically, he argues that Internet providers shouldn’t prioritize one type of service over another, slowing down BitTorrent sites while speeding up their own sites. If we allowed them to do that, we’d end up with a tiered system that resembled cable television more than the Internet we currently know.

The “bit is a bit” model is the one that has been used since the Internet was created. Some of us have now spent our whole lives using the Internet with this familiar model.

But it’s not a model that Internet providers want to use, and a battle between public interest and big name companies is on the horizon. Internet providers would prefer a system that allowed them to charge users for packages of websites. It all comes down to the bottom line: profit.

Surprisingly, Internet giant Google — whose corporate motto is, rather ironically, “don’t be evil” — have now marked themselves as one of those big name companies who are interested in benefiting from a tiered Internet system, garnering them a lot of negative attention along the way.

At the beginning of August, Google released a joint policy proposal with Verizon, what they call a “suggested legislative framework for consideration by lawmakers.” At first glance, the policy suggestions seem harmless.

They outline seven “key elements” concerning the Federal Communications Commision’s governance of the Internet which are fairly reasonable, even supporting net neutrality and non-discrimination of services, but it’s the sixth suggestion that got the online tech crowd buzzing.

It reads: “Sixth, we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement.”

While all of the other elements propose the FCC support and regulate net neutrality, this sixth element leaves wireless network open to the possibility of wireless providers creating a tiered system.

On episode 260 of This Week in Tech, Molly Wood, an executive editor at CNET.com, explains why giving up on net neutrality over wireless networks is a bad idea.

“In the future, most of us will consume our data over wireless networks and not as much over wired networks,” she said. “That’s the new infrastructure and it is the new battleground. And I think that Google is absolutely about to sell us down the river when it comes to tiering wireless networks.”Â 

She also points out that while the proposal is only a lobbying effort, Google and Verizon could have a lot of influence on future legislation and future regulation.

Most commentators suggest Google will benefit from the tiered system because they have plans to partner with Verizon for their Android mobile operating system, though Google denies this charge.

But what do these American companies lobbying the American government have to do with Canada? The sad truth is that time and time again, the Canadian government follows the American government’s lead when it comes to technology policy.

Blogger Patrick Beja, who was also involved in episode 260 of This Week in Tech, said “whatever we decide on now is going to be the foundation for what happens later. And we don’t know what we’re going to need later. The Internet evolves so fast because we have no restrictions.”

We may be a long way from seeing the end of this debate, but as Internet consumers, we should watch its development carefully. ­

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image: Flickr

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