Verizon and Google made headlines this week when they announced a joint policy proposal regarding Net Neutrality. While the statement itself largely follows the idealized view of Net Neutrality, there is one part that has a lot of people upset. But they shouldn’t be…
To make sure we are all on the same page, net neutrality is a policy proposed in the United States that would forbid Internet Service Providers from restricting internet content for any basis. Todd Shields and Brad Stone offer a couple of real world scenarios that net neutrality would prevent:
Imagine an Internet where consumers paid a low price for basic service and more for add-ons such as 3-D video.
Or imagine if Comcast Corp., now seeking approval to acquire General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, let its customers download Universal movies at superfast speeds, while relegating the latest Harry Potter film from rival Time Warner Inc. to the slow lane.
Net Neutrality would prevent ISP from turning internet access into a package deal, like cable is now.
So enter Verizon and Google, who recently issued a joint statement regarding net neutrality. The statement itself contains seven key elements that pertain to net neutrality. You can read them here, but for a quick summary, Verizon and Google are proposing that ISP not be allowed to prioritize or restrict any content over the wired internet, and that the FCC be given authority to enforce the net neutrality standards. And while this is only a policy recommendation, Verizon and Google have already committed to following the principles laid out within.
So this should be a huge win for net neutrality, right? Well not everyone seems to think so. And the reason is the sixth key element listed in the proposal:
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. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.
So while Verizon and Google support the ideals of net neutrality over traditional channels, they want to make an exception for mobile broadband. And the mobile world is in an uproar. Basically the only principle that would apply to mobile broadband would be the idea of transparency, or the full disclosure in plain text of what the ISP is capable of providing to the consumer. That means that if a mobile broadband provider wants to block something like BitTorrent over its 3G network, they will have to clearly say so.
But is this really so bad? In my opinion, no.
Mobile broadband providers need to be able to restrict some content. The networks simply aren’t ready to support a completely open mobile net. Think of it - if everybody with an Android handset began streaming BitTorrent, the networks would come to a crashing halt. Over saturated networks in major cities like New York and San Francisco are already failing consumers. Verizon and Google recognized that the nature of the mobile net is still evolving, and true net neutrality would do more harm than good. By leaving the transparency provision in place for wireless broadband, and by requiring an annual report to Congress regarding the development of wireless broadband and the impact on consumers, the policy is doing everything it can to ensure that the consumer is not abused in the mobile broadband marketplace while still allowing the relatively young mobile broadband networks to evolve.
Net Neutrality proponents who are rallying against Google and Verizon need to take a step back and realize that this policy would be a major step forward, and would also lay the foundation for the application of mobile net neutrality in the future.