The Verizon-Google proposal isn’t bad
I’ve been a bit perplexed on why so many people insist on calling the Verizon/Youtube Net Neutrality proposal a massive betrayal by Google. While it’s true that the proposal is a compromise and doesn’t doesn’t answer every single dream of the die-hard net neutrality proponents—it’s the sort of compromise where the net neutrality advocates get most of what they want. It’s a good deal.
As a bit of background, net neutrality is a proposal to ensure that all internet traffic is treated equally. The concern is that the companies that own the infrastructure will prioritize the content of companies that pay for priority. (Or, as the late Ted Stevens might have put it, the company that owns the tubes gets to choose your milkshake.) Practically speaking, this means small start-ups with lower budgets would have trouble competing. The next Googles, YouTubes, and Tumblrs could be killed in their cradles. The Obama administration supports net neutrality—but a lot of people don’t. And the Obama FCC’s efforts to make net neutrality law recently had a major set-back in the courts. There is a lot of money opposing net neutrality.
Google and Verizon got together with a proposal for how the Federal Communications Commission should review net neutrality. The bulk of it is likely to become regulation—because Google is the strongest voice on the net neutrality side. (A few details will probably be changed. Some of it has a distinctly anti-regulatory flavor—which probably won’t make it through a the regulatory body. It was worth a try, guys.)
The most significant part of the proposal is that it would essentially make net neutrality law … at least for the wired internet. The primary exceptions are that “network management” would be allowed—which is emminently reasonable. Prioritizing text over images when there are bandwidth concerns, for example, makes sense. (The Internet is not a truck.) The other significant exception is that the proposal takes a wait-and-see approach to wireless internet access. So Verizon can still push it’s special video-to-phone service. The theory/excuse is that wireless Internet access is a developing area and shouldn’t be overly regulated until we see how it’s going to develop. The transparency rules do apply to wireless Internet.
The web start-ups are safe. Tumblr won’t going to vanish because AT&T decides it wants to promote its own blog platform.
A lot of people don’t like this. It doesn’t bother me. Nobody hosts a start-up company on a mobile phone. Innovation is safe. And consumers do have meaningful choices with regards to wireless carriers. The market works decently well there. I don’t see a rush of people going to sign up for wireless internet access that selectively speeds up or slows down depending on what sort of content is being downloaded.
If you see this proposal as a massive betrayal, you are probably frequently disappointed. You got the pony you wanted. Maybe it doesn’t have a star on its forehead like you wanted—but it’s still an awesome birthday gift.