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.
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.