There has been an incredible amount of mud-slinging and hand-wringing over a perceived back office deal by Google and Verizon, both of whom, if you listen to most reports, are hell-bent on destroying the Internet for their own gains. Thanks for that, New York Times. Google and Verizon, however, are finally speaking out on the issue with more than adamant denials of the Times' piece and the related media frenzy.
ZDNet's Sam Diaz reported this afternoon on a post on Google's public policy blog today where Alan Davidson, Google director of public policy and Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy, and communications described the real aim of their talks. In fact, as Sam noted, they're going farther than merely discussing. The two companies actually proposed a legislative framework to ensure ongoing openness while ensuring optimal use of limited broadband resources.
According to the blog post describing the framework,
...in addition to these existing principles there should be a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices. This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition...this new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic - including paid prioritization. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic.
Sounds kind of like the opposite of what MoveOn.org was circulating in their misinformed propaganda this weekend, doesn't it? An email asking people to sign a petition to keep Google from doing anything untoward with their online power contained the following passage:
But today's news stories report that under the new deal, Verizon could be allowed to give some sites preferential treatment. Even more ominously, it appears that Verizon would have free rein to discriminate on the mobile Internet (smartphones, cell phones, etc). Since that's where most people will access the Net going forward, this would essentially spell the end of Net Neutrality.
Nice. Obviously, both Google and Verizon have extraordinarily vested interests in making sure that the Internet, as a commerce and communications platform, works favorably for them and their customers. However, as eWeek's Wayne Rash points out, Net neutrality and smart traffic shaping don't have to be mutually exclusive:
In either case [voice or video over the Internet], reliable delivery is important for these services to be usable. Google's belief, according to a statement made by CEO Eric Schmidt during an impromptu news conference on Aug. 4, is that network providers should be able to differentiate service types so that voice traffic gets delivered intact, for example, but not prioritize one provider's voice or video over another's.
Today's news further emphasizes (no matter how many grains of salt with which you choose to take a joint Google/Verizon blog post and legislation proposal) that Google and Verizon both stand to benefit far more from an open Internet with significant investments in broadband infrastructure to promote development than Draconian (or conspiratorial) traffic controls.
Here's is perhaps the best quote from the blog post:
Fifth, we want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV) offered today. This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services. It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options.
Of course they want it to be a platform for innovation! That's how Google makes its billions and how Verizon consistently distinguishes itself from its competitors. This isn't a bad thing. Platforms for innovation mean jobs, folks. Investments in infrastructure? More jobs. Growing an open and neutral Internet? More jobs.
Google should most certainly be advocating for this and so should we. All of us involved in running networks pay attention to the types of traffic flying about on our lines. We wouldn't be very good network admins if we didn't ensure that traffic that needs to get through fast gets through fast and traffic that can tolerate some latency tolerates a bit of latency when it needs to. I'm sure my mom would be thrilled if her miserable ISP would prioritize Skype traffic over her neighbor's streaming porn so she can actually have both sound and video when she's watching her granddaughter from across the country. That would hardly mean the end of free and open access. It would simply make the Internet more useful as a communications platform for both consumers and the enterprise.
Let's face it: our Internet traffic is growing a heck of a lot faster than our infrastructure here in the States. At some point, something has to give to ensure that the Net doesn't end up as one big useless traffic jam. If a bit of bandwidth shaping that is vendor-neutral but traffic-specific can ensure that we make the best use of relatively scarce broadband resources, then lobby away, guys.