Aug 5th, 2010

[Update]: Google’s since updated everyone via Twitter claiming that the New York Times’ original report was false, saying: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.” Take that for what you will, but our original report (complete with Rob’s thoughts) remain below.

I’m sure that you’ve heard the term “net neutrality” as its been a buzz word lately, but similar to the trend regarding “the cloud”, many people hear it but don’t understand it. Perhaps that’s because for two years the FCC has been discussing the issue but failed to impose any rules to enforce it. Apparently Verizon and Google are taking matters into their own hands, creating a private partnership designed to both exploit the lack of lawmaking while urging the FCC to move forward.

CompetitionAllow me to explain: Verizon is an internet service provider. They make money by delivering content to user’s computers – something that we call bandwidth. But what if Verizon could selectively choose how fast (and if at all) certain content loads? What if they slowed down websites of competitors, sped up their own offerings, or even demanded money from companies who wanted an inside track to speedy load times?

Google and many others have pushed for “net neutrality” which essentially states all content is created equal. Meanwhile ISPs like Verizon suggest they deserve the freedom to treat content however they choose. The governmental stalemate has led to a private deal made by Google and Verizon and it should turn a few heads. From the New York Times:

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

If you’re thinking, “Quicker YouTube loadtimes? SWEET!” then knock it off. This deal has the potential to open the door to a lot of ugly stuff. Imagine content providers constantly wheeling and dealing, paying ISPs to get preferential treatment at the expense of competitors and innocent bystanders who simply want to load their favorite website. While it would take a severe course of action to degrade into a total black market ideology, without any net neutrality laws in place, anything could happen.

To be clear, the supposed deal would not include slowing data or giving preferential treatment to data on Verizon’s mobile network. To be even more clear, this entire report must be considered rumor until something more official finds its way to the stage. But from the looks of it, this could be the new reality, at least for a short while.

Greg Sterling from Search Engine Land likened the deal to a form of “internet payola“, a claim I wholeheartedly support. Looking at the issue from that standpoint, it seems like a no-brainer for the FCC to impose guidelines. Easier said than done.

You know all those person-to-person file sharing networks that have consistently cropped up ever since the advent of Napster? In 2008, Comcast was ordered by the FCC to stop blocking and/or throttling traffic from these P2P networks. The volume and burden of this traffic must have been affecting Comcast’s bottom line, and they felt it was only fair that they have control over this type of use of their network, so they fired back. In a 2008 lawsuit, Comcast won its case against the FCC, arguing they had no legal authority to regulate their control of traffic through their network.

Obviously there needs to be some sort of middle ground. While ISPs SHOULD have the right to control and manipulate data that could be perceived as malicious, over bearing, unwanted, or whatever else, the measures they take should be defensive in nature and not designed for the sheer purpose of profit. Leveraging their user base and offering unfair advantages to companies who pay them more money should be, if not completely outlawed, at least severely restricted to special case scenarios.

throttleThat’s my opinion but I’m sure you have your own. What do you think of this supposed deal? Of net neutrality in general?

I want to reiterate that these deals would NOT extend to the mobile landscape, but I think it’s important we start discussing them now, because mobile would be a natural extension. Especially once Verizon and other 4G networks start to take shape and television, video and large data transfers become much more regular on your mobile device.

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