Google's Shocking Change Of Heart On Net Neutrality

A frequent warning heard from sociologists and network theorists is that "exclusion from networks" represents one of the greatest sociological and economic threats that future global societies could possibly encounter.  In light of the recent pact between Google and Verizon on net neutrality, and their combined position that somehow "wireless internet networks are different," one of the societies now at the crossroads of this dilemma is the United States. 

While the Google-Verizon pact is not law by any means, many experts and people in government view this development as the first key domino to fall toward non-neutrality via legislation.  Keeping networks "neutral" means that there is open and free access to the Internet in the U.S.  This is significant to the Web as we know it, and impacts the life of U.S. citizens directly for a number of reasons. 

First, it ensures equal access, without discrimination of the type of content, originating top level country code domains, load times, and myriad other factors and scenarios.  Internet users currently have the freedom to search where they want with the words they want, to speak freely and congregate in the social networks of their choosing, and to start their own Internet presence on the same playing field as any major corporation or government entity.  In an open Internet, content will not be denied because the carrier disagrees with a point of view, offers competing services or offers preferential treatment to paid content publishers. 

Second, it ensures an equal playing field for innovation, in the same way two guys in a garage developed Google, or one guy in a dorm invented Facebook.  An equal playing field means that the onramp for new businesses is fundamentally the same for all players, in terms of non-discrimination toward the type of content delivery and download speeds, and equal costs (no special tiers of access).



 Third, net neutrality ensures that economies of all sizes will continue to thrive on their own merits.  With the rise of the commercial Internet in the mid-1990s, long-tail economies that did not previously exist arose in a new and meaningful way.  An open and equal playing field for both wireline and wireless ensures that our economy will continue to thrive and remain competitive in this networked society that we have created.

While the proposals do not expressly say that any of this discrimination will occur, it definitely opens the pathway for it. U.S. users would be at the mercy of those gatekeepers to decide, and it is more than fair to expect that many of these things can and will happen. 

As the reality of potential legislation draws closer, it is important that we all give some thought to Google's new position, the motives thereof, and the meaning of the loss of Google as a key supporter in the net neutrality debate.  I challenge you to becomefamiliarwiththeissue, and if you are a blogger or active social media participant, to offer at least one opinion or observation, pro or con.

I want to end this column with a pro-net-neutrality letter written to Congress in 2005 by the esteemed father of the Internet, Vint Cerf, also Google's Chief Internet Evangelist and "net neutrality guru."

Public record, version taken from the Google Blog, dated 11/08/2005:

"Dear Chairman Barton and Ranking Member Dingell,

I appreciate the inquiries by your staff about my availability to appear before the Committee and to share Google's views about draft telecommunications legislation and the issues related to "network neutrality." These are matters of great importance to the Internet and Google welcomes the Committee's hard work and attention. The hearing unfortunately conflicts with another obligation, and I am sorry I will not be able to attend. (Along with my colleague Robert Kahn, I am honored to be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday at the White House for our work in creating the Internet protocol TCP/IP.)

Despite my inability to participate in the planned hearing in person, I hope that you will accept some brief observations about this legislation.

The remarkable social impact and economic success of the Internet is in many ways directly attributable to the architectural characteristics that were part of its design. The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control. By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation. This has led to an explosion of offerings - from VOIP to 802.11x wi-fi to blogging - that might never have evolved had central control of the network been required by design.

My fear is that, as written, this bill would do great damage to the Internet as we know it. Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity. Allowing broadband providers to segment their IP offerings and reserve huge amounts of bandwidth for their own services will not give consumers the broadband Internet our country and economy need. Many people will have little or no choice among broadband operators for the foreseeable future, implying that such operators will have the power to exercise a great deal of control over any applications placed on the network.

As we move to a broadband environment and eliminate century-old non-discrimination requirements, a lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive. Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online.

I am confident that we can build a broadband system that allows users to decide what websites they want to see and what applications they want to use - and that also guarantees high quality service and network security. That network model has and can continue to provide economic benefits to innovators and consumers -- and to the broadband operators who will reap the rewards for providing access to such a valued network.

We appreciate the efforts in your current draft to create at least a starting point for net neutrality principles. Google looks forward to working with you and your staff to draft a bill that will maintain the revolutionary potential of the broadband Internet.

Thank you for your attention and for your efforts on these important issues.


Vinton Cerf

In an interview with CBC news in Canada on Friday,  Cerf states that Google's latest pact with Verizon was about compromise, though his change between the letter he wrote in 2005, and the letter he wrote just last week on the agreement seems immense: "On further thought and discussion, I'm not nearly as unhappy with this outcome as one might imagine me to be. I'm not a happy camper with the terms and conditions in some parts, but I'm not surprised at that because it represents an attempt to reach some kind of common ground."

It seems that Cerf may be still troubled with the agreement and the argument that "wireless is different," which should still give us all pause about what is at stake. 

7 comments about "Google's Shocking Change Of Heart On Net Neutrality ".
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  1. Clive Swanepoel from ZebraHost, August 18, 2010 at 12:29 p.m.

    This is the thin edge of the wedge and needs to be stopped in its tracks. Google has changed a lot since it was founded on "Do no harm"

    Ask the thousands of small advertisers whose AdWords Accounts have been terminated without being able to get the reason reviewed.

    Google is responsible to its shareholders and will always act in its own interests. For that reason alone it should not be given even the slightest power to increase its control on Internet access or online activity.

    Even though Verizon has not taken Google's "wolf in sheep's clothing" approach, everyone knows where their bread is buttered.

    These two giants already have way too much power and could eventually lead us to some calamity in the way the banking industry did.

    Like the large banks they have grown too big and are already able to take actions that directly affect our lives and businesses. First there were the "Baby Bells". Perhaps the time has come for "Baby Googles" and "Baby Verizons" (The time for "Baby Bank of Americas" is way past due)

  2. Jerry Gibbons from Gibbons Advice, August 18, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    Just so you know I forward a copy of this posting to my representatives in Washington DC (D. Feinstein, B. Boxer & N. Pelosi) asking them to fight for mobil net neutrality.
    Jerry Gibbons

  3. David Pavlicko from AVISPL, August 18, 2010 at 2:22 p.m.

    This issue seems more complicated than it really is. I'll touch on the Google/Verizon deal momentarily. First, a rant on net neutrality.

    On the surface, net neutrality sounds great. Regulate the service providers and make sure that they aren't limiting speed or access to consumers, and ensure that the internet remains an open forum for expressing ideas, and blah blah blah...

    Unfortunately, regulating internet speeds to ensure no one receives faster service than someone else more than likely won't improve your existing service, but rather slow it down. And with any type of government regulation, you can rest assured knowing taxes won't be far behind, which in turn will certainly affect the growth of new business on the internet. This could be a big reason why a U.S. court struck down the powergrab this year.

    However, instead of accepting the ruling, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski decided to develop and implement new regulatory mandates on internet providers, despite the fact they (the FCC) have absolutely no grounds to do so.

    So why would Free Press and the Center for Media Justice be in favor of the FCC regulating the internet, you ask? To answer that question, I suggest you visit their sites and check out some of their resources to see who they are affiliated with. You might just be surprised.

    Before you decide, ask yourself this question. When's the last time you HAVEN'T been able to visit a website because your connection was too slow?

    Sorry about that - on to the Google/Verizon deal.

    It's 100% evil. Google simply wants to make sure that everyone has enough bandwidth when when Google TV launches and everyone starts watching YouTube from their android enabled phones/tablets. That's why it doesn't touch wireless.

  4. Peter Herring from TTW Systems, August 18, 2010 at 2:59 p.m.

    I cannot think of an issue - short of climate change and world hunger - that is as important as this. In our world of corporate controlled media, and in light of the recent supreme court decision to allow unlimited corporate spending, plus the unprecedented tsunamis of oil, coal and insurance monies pouring into the congress and senate in the last two years, the Internet represents our one true, de facto organ of free speech. It has empowered many groups and causes that would otherwise remain unheard due to lack of media access, and many such groups - rightfully understanding the gravity of the situation - have created online petitions. It is atrocious that two private companies would come to anything approaching a "deal" )Google claims misrepresentation, of course) concerning a public trust that is governed by the FCC. In addition, the major carriers in this country have an execrable record of public service - all we given billions of dollars in tax credits during the 90s to create a fast infrastructure - and yet the USA still lags behind such economic giants as Romania in internet speed. Now they're complaining of the costs of carrying the system they failed to upgrade.

    I urge anyone who cares about freedom of speech, about innovation, and simply about continuing the great experiment in human communication - from vapid to vile to vital - that a neutral internet enables, to go find a petition - or 3 - in favor of true net neutrality and sign them. How would you find such things? Well, Google them. For now, that works...

  5. Susan Kuchinskas from freelance, August 18, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

    Dave said, "Google simply wants to make sure that everyone has enough bandwidth when when Google TV launches and everyone starts watching YouTube from their android enabled phones/tablets. That's why it doesn't touch wireless."

    Possibly. But what about this? Apple gave AT&T a lock on the iphone, leading to huge customer growth for the telco and probably a huge revenue boost, despite the drag on its networks.

    Now, Google can do the same thing with Verizon, offering it exclusive hardware. It can also make sure that Android devices are faster than than others running on the Verizon network.

    Sounds like a good, and evil, plan to me.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 18, 2010 at 4:01 p.m.

    When the forces of evil - greed, fear, power and control - are allowed to rule, then this is the failure that occurs. I do believe broadband needs to come under the FCC, not that it is the best solution, but better than what is going on now. We'll see when we will look back a few years from now when we are provided with broadband from Romania.

  7. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, August 18, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.

    Great commentary, Rob; thank you.

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