This past week, Google and Verizon introduced a joint legislative proposal. Shortly thereafter, blogs and forums filled with buzz and chatter over this two-page document. Many of those blogs and posts were targeted at Google, claiming that they are proposing things in violation of net neutrality. What exactly is net neutrality, and why is Google and Verizon’s proposal taking so much heat?
Network neutrality is the philosophy that all things related to the network of the internet be neutral, i.e. unregulated. In a completely neutral network, there would be no regulations on what can connect to that network and what data can be transferred across that network. This is the environment in which the Internet has grown in and thrived upon, and thus the environment that most Internet purists strive to maintain.
However, the issue with this idea of neutrality is the Internet is now a vessel of capitalism. Capitalism revolves around the creation and protection of wealth. Therefore, it has become in the best interests of many players in this industry to begin to protect their wealth. An example of where this protection of this wealth clashes against net neutrality is the Comcast and BitTorrent issues. As you may recall, Comcast began capping the rates at which their subscribers could use BitTorrent transfers. In Comcast’s defense, it was a matter of protecting their services for all their subscribers. The bandwidth required to support BitTorrent had never existed previously, and was a strain Comcast was not ready to support. On the net neutral end of things, what gave Comcast the right to dictate what John Q. Public could or could not do on the Internet?
Like many political documents, Google and Verizon attempt to avoid clearly defining their stance on net neutrality. It doesn’t appear that Google and Verizon intentionally sought any policies to hinder net neutrality, but by omitting language to specifically foster net neutrality, they opened the flood gates of opposition. For example, a specific clause of “Network Management” was introduced, encouraging the right of an ISP to “engage in reasonable network management.” This clause was skillfully crafted in such a manner to ride the fence of net neutrality. If this was a legal language that existed when Comcast decided to control BitTorrent usage, the outcome of that situation would not have been any more clearly defined than it was without this kind of guideline.
Google’s position shown in this document, is somewhat of an identity crisis. Google’s lifeline is this free and open Internet. However, Google must work with the other big players in the net to create a framework in which Google’s capital interests can be protected. It will be interesting to continue to follow how and what legal entities get involved. One thing is for certain: despite any goodwill shown by any of the parties involved, network neutrality is at risk.