Google, Verizon are right to push out the wireless net neutrality talk

As with all things having to do with net neutrality the debate went from zero to way overblown and emotional as soon as Google and Verizon posted their proposal. Biggest issue: The argument that the wireless industry is too immature for net neutrality mandates.

As with all things having to do with net neutrality the debate went from zero to way overblown and emotional as soon as Google and Verizon posted a proposal on where they stand. The source of the entire hubbub---the idea that wireless access should have different rules for now---seems to reflect the reality that mobile networks aren't even built out yet.

But reality isn't going to stop anyone from screaming---a lot.

The Google-Verizon compromise raised quite a ruckus. The big issue for some folks---there's actually compromise. You can twirl around in a circle and hit someone saying Google sold out. And of course, the telecom carriers are always portrayed as evil. However, the Google-Verizon proposal has a bevy of items that make sense on the wireline front. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice analysis of the nuances here and at least tries to cut through the clutter.

Overall, the Google-Verizon missive isn't all that jarring---until you get to the wireless part of the net neutrality issue. Then the technology peanut gallery goes nuclear. Is Google really "carrier-humping net neutrality surrender monkey"?

Here's the passage in the Google-Verizon proposal that has many folks freaked out:

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.

In other words, the core concepts of net neutrality---consumers have open choice and content won't be discriminated against on networks---that apply for wired access shouldn't be lording over the wireless industry yet. Notice Google and Verizon didn't say that net neutrality will NEVER apply to the wireless industry. Just not now. The two companies decided that it's best to kick the issue down the road.

Why would the companies put off wireless net neutrality? Here are a few reasons:

  • Wireless networks aren't built out and aren't even close to reaching parity with wireline access. Let Verizon, AT&T and the rest of the gang install 4G LTE networks before you start yapping about whether you can have video streaming and other bandwidth hogging downloads at the expense of my calls. Regulating wireless access at this point in time would be like the FCC mandating net neutrality back in the dial-up access days. It's silly since many of the things you do on wireline networks you simply can't in the wireless world---at least not without some pain.
  • Wireless networks have spectrum issues. Wireline networks have the throughput to have a discussion about something like BitTorrent can ride shotgun with a PowerPoint presentation. Simply put, the pipes are big enough. Wireless networks are constrained due to spectrum. You have to manage a network with limited resources. That fact isn't going to change for the foreseeable future.
  • The wireless market is immature and the law of unintended consequences is magnified in nascent areas. The EFF notes that the big issue with net neutrality is that there's a "substantial danger that the regulators will cause more harm than good for the Internet." Just imagine how bad Washington could screw up the already partly dysfunctional wireless industry.

Perhaps Google and Verizon could have avoided the firestorm over wireless neutrality if they proposed some sort of timeline. For instance, FCC could be tasked to evaluate wireless net neutrality every two years or take a phased approach to implementing the concepts. Instead, Google and Verizon proposed an annual GAO report.

Bottom line: Google and Verizon made a logical proposal to put off net neutrality on the wireless front. Some would call that a sell-out move. I'd call it a reflection of network realities.