Thursday, August 5, 2010

Google, Verizon, and Net Neutrality

There's a lot of talk going on right now about a possible agreement between Google and Verizon for prioritized data transfer. The New York Times stated that the two companies are negotiating a deal that would allow Verizon clients to access information stored on Google's networks more quickly than other online content. Bloomberg further reports that this agreement applies only to the Verizon mobile network, not to broadband internet. If such an agreement were realized it would stand in direct opposition to the net neutrality principle that Google has repeatedly championed in the past. Both companies have issued statements denying any discussion of priority data transfer, with Google stating that it remains "committed to an open internet."

The details are still quite murky so it's hard to say exactly what is going on here. The Times and Bloomberg could both be completely off their rocker, though that seems somewhat unlikely. They were at least correct in pointing out that Google and Verizon are indeed talking about net neutrality from a business standpoint. But it would be a dramatic change of face for Google to be pursuing any sort of data prioritization policy. As Mashable points out, the two companies are more likely doing just what they say they are: discussing an official agreement on the terms of net neutrality. It is kind of a hot topic right now. Marvin Ammori posting at Balkinization does a great job of outlining how bad it would be if the allegations were 100% correct. I encourage you to give his piece a read, as well as some of his older posts about net neutrality and especially the discussions at the F.C.C.

Rather than jump to apocalyptic conclusions, lets take this as an opportunity to consider the value of net neutrality and the need for government regulations to preserve it. Right now it's easy to take it for granted that the internet is unregulated in terms of our ability to access all content equally, but that could easily change. We are incredibly lucky that companies as powerful as Google (generally/publicly) favour a philosophy so geared towards the consumer, and this event demonstrates how easy it would be for the rug to be pulled out from under us. Unless specific government regulations are set in place the control of internet access will fall on the providers. Net neutrality needs to be government policy, not just philosophy, and this all shows that the F.C.C. negotiations might not be enough to ensure that in the U.S.

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