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Surrender Monkeys and the Schminternet: What The Web Says about Google and Verizon's Net Neutrality Compromise

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On Monday, Google (s goog) and Verizon (s vz) announced a controversial framework for compromise around the contentious issues of network neutrality: the idea that ISPs shouldn’t discriminate against certain types of web traffic. The issues are so complex that Congress has tried three times to make some sort of law regarding the idea, and for the last year the Federal Communciations Commission (FCC) has received tens of thousands of comments in a public proceeding aimed at creating some type of net neutrality regulation.

I’ve covered the issue closely since FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was appointed, and you can find my thoughts and analysis on the compromise here and here. But for those who really want to dig into the issue (start by reading the actual framework), I’ve collected some of the best and varied viewpoints from around the web.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation hates to see the government get too much power over the Internet, but sees some aspects of the compromise that are problematic:

The worst case scenario would be that, in allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet, we open the door for big business, Hollywood and the indecency police to exert even more influence on the Net than they do now … Reaction to the proposal has been swift and, for the most part, highly critical. While we agree with many aspects of that criticism, we are interested in the framework’s attempt to grapple with the Trojan Horse problem. The proposed solution: a narrow grant of power to the FCC to enforce neutrality within carefully specified parameters. While this solution is not without its own substantial dangers, we think it deserves to be considered further if Congress decides to legislate.

RCR Wireless takes the view of the ISP, noting that providers want to profit too, and net neutrality could stand in the way of that:

Verizon Communications Inc.’s and AT&T Inc.’s (s T) stock prices are not enjoying the same lift as what he terms “the four horsemen:” Google Inc., Apple Inc. (s aapl), Amazon (s amzn) and Microsoft Corp. (s msft) These companies have no debt, no unions, no pensions to pay out. Nevertheless, those four horsemen are extremely dependent on the broadband networks built by the likes of AT&T and Verizon. Going forward, their growth is going to be fueled by the wireless networks built by AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless.

Ars Technica takes a look at Google’s historical statements on network neutrality and documents how its stance has changed:

It is unclear yet what the “additional services” would be, but Google Then could not have been more suspicious of these ideas. The company conceded in 2007 that two types of prioritization schemes could be justified—”differentiating based on the type of applications and/or the quantity of bandwidth purchased by the consumer. Beyond those, however, Google strongly objected to prioritizing quality of service (QoS) network management systems designed to deliver predictable packet flow.

Wired’s analyisis is good, but its headline, “Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey” takes the cake:

Google could have fought. It had plenty of tools at its disposal. It could have made phones that worked on all of those networks, and then sued those companies if they didn’t allow users to get fair plans. That sort of blatant denial of carriers’ wishes would have been perfect fodder for the FCC to push through new wireless rules. The FTC would have had a reason to pry into unfair business practices. Google could have eschewed online-only selling and partnered with the many independently owned mobile phone shops around the country, so that potential customers could play with the device before plunking down $500.

Jeff Jarvis explains the situation in an approachable way. This is what you mights send to your frat buddy who doesn’t care about network neutrality:

As I see it, the agreement makes two huge carve-outs to neutrality and regulation of the internet: mobile and anything new. So ol, grandpa internet may chug along giving us YouTube videos of flaming cats, but you want to get that while you’re out of your house? Well, that’s the nonnet. I can hear the customer “service” rep explaining this to us:

“Oh, no, sir. That’s not offered on the internet. That’s on the schminternet.”

You want something new? Anything created after 2010?

“Schminternet, sir.”

Amid the hue and cry over Google’s betrayal, the telecommunications industry hasn’t been entirely silent. The Wall Street Journal offers some perspective from an AT&T executive:

It’s a positive sign that shows that those two companies can agree on something as different as net neutrality,” Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T’s consumer and mobile divisions, told analysts during an investor conference on Wednesday. He called it the right step forward in coming up with a reasonable agreement.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d): The New Net-Neutrality Debate: What’s the Best Way to Discriminate?

8 Responses to “Surrender Monkeys and the Schminternet: What The Web Says about Google and Verizon's Net Neutrality Compromise”

  1. At what point did the carrier become confused with the ISP? We had backbones and we had guys who gave us access. At some Lagrange Point the public Internet got caught between carriers becoming ISPs becoming content and premium service providers.

    This is why Caesar’s legions were not allowed to cross the Rubicon. How do we go back now? For the Internet to work at broadband capacity and reap the economic benefits from that situation we must reverse the trend of combining network ownership with content and service provision.

    Broadband must be a commodity.

    More at, “Raw Economics: Google-Verizon CoOpoly Galvanize Net Neutrality”

  2. I’m sure we all agree that net neutrality is an excellent goal. However some of the more fundamentalist interpretations of net neutrality expressed on the show are about as achievable as that other excellent goal – world peace.

    I’m sure we also all agree that the behaviour of mobile operators does not lead us to trust their motives, there are some very basic practical problems that need to be managed in the the real world. It is a great shame that nobody on the show appeared to really understand, or care about, the major differences between fixed line and mobile networks. In a fixed line world you don’t get the problem of how to prevent a bunch of people unexpectedly gathering in one place (a single cell) and preventing someone from making an emergency call by endlessly streaming multimedia content. One technique to manage this, and to prevent your movie streaming from stuttering too much, is to carefully manage how different content streams are handled (e.g. traffic shaping). This contravenes the fundamentalist’s net neutrality scriptures – but most sane people firstly want an Internet that works – with neutrality as an important secondary goal.

    So please, less ranting and paranoia and more well researched analysis of a very difficult situation. Don’t forget that these “problems” are mainly caused by all of us obsessively using our beloved iPhones, iPads and Anroid phones as if the there was an infinite (and preferably free) resource delivering us what we want – and there isn’t!

  3. Brett Glass

    Note that Ms. Higginbotham, in this article as elsewhere, ignores the comments of those of us who are actually out in the real world and continues to advocate policies that would do harm to small, independent ISPs and their customers. Typical.

  4. All we’re saying is: Don’t allow preferential treatment on the internet based on ability or willingness to pay. We don’t allow rich people to buy their own lanes on our roads and we shouldn’t allow them to do the same on the internet. However, we do allow preferential treatment to emergency vehicles and the occasional parade – a good model for the internet too.

  5. “It is unclear yet what the “additional services” would be,”

    Anything that uses whopping amounts of bandwidth will be moved from open internet to a subscription category on a controlled pipe at a price level causing significant financial pain to the consumer but at the same time not killing their purchasing power, all in a way that would make Torquemada proud.