There is a heated debate emerging over the proposal by Google and Verizon over how net neutrality issues should be handled going forward. The proposal outlines several ways in which the Internet can be governed to ostensibly help deliver a better experience to Web users.
Those in support of what Google and Verizon announced say that it makes some sense. They believe that both companies are looking out for the best interests of users, and the proposal is in no way nefarious.
Critics couldn’t disagree more with supporters. They say that Google has effectively “sold out” Web users and those who support keeping a level playing field for Internet access. They believe supporters of the net neutrality proposal are putting an inordinate amount of trust in two companies that have a vested interest in staying dominant.
Regardless of the side of the debate one falls on, it’s hard to debate that there are some blatantly scary things in the proposal. And although the abstract of the proposal seems innocuous, a further look at the companies’ detailed plans reveals several concerning elements that could have a measurable negative impact on all stakeholders.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that should scare Web users about Google and Verizon’s net neutrality proposal.
1. It makes Google stronger
There’s little debating that if the proposal that was drawn up by Google and Verizon becomes the law of the land, it would help the search giant immensely. The full description of the plan allows for preferential treatment being given to certain services by ISPs. The basic description in the document says that prioritization of Web traffic “would be presumed inconsistent with the non-discrimination standard.” But Google and Verizon follow that up with a clause that says, “Other additional or differentiated services … could include traffic prioritization.” One of those “differentiated services” could include video-a key aspect of Google’s business. In essence, Google and Verizon are giving ISPs a wide opening to offer preferential treatment for certain types of Web traffic. And in most cases, that will only help the search giant.
2. ISPs couldn’t be happier
If the net neutrality proposal drafted by Google and Verizon becomes a regulation, ISPs will benefit heavily. Not only would they have all the control in the marketplace, but they would also be able to potentially generate more revenue, since they could conceivably charge more for better service. ISPs might not be as bad as some critics say, but giving them more power doesn’t seem all that beneficial to the average Web user.
3. The big companies benefit most
It’s hard to see where Google and Verizon’s proposal helps small companies. Because it allows ISPs to have a proverbial “toll road” on the Internet, it gives companies with big budgets or backing from venture capitalists the ability to provide a better service. Small startups won’t have that luxury and would conceivably deliver a less ideal experience. Google and Verizon say the Web shouldn’t be a place where ISPs can “discriminate against” applications or services. But then it sets a high legal bar to prove discrimination. In order for discrimination to occur on the Internet, they wrote in the proposal, affected companies must be able to prove “meaningful harm.” Even better, Google doesn’t want the FCC to decide what makes harm “meaningful.” So, evidently, the company would allow those committing the harm against small sites or services to decide if it’s really meaningful. Does that sound fair?
4. Anything goes on wireless networks
Wireless networks are kept out of the so-called protections Google is offering to the Internet. By leaving wireless networks out, it gives all the power to the service provider to do what it wants, when it wants on those networks. That might not be a major problem right now, but there’s little debating that wireless access will guide the future of the industry. If more and more people start accessing networks over WiFi and they are being totally controlled by ISPs, a troubling scenario could ensue.
Making the Web Giants and ISPs Even More Powerful
5. Traffic blocking could be commonplace
Blocking Web traffic could potentially be commonplace, especially on mobile networks, under the new proposal set forth by Google and Verizon. Of course, supporters of it say that such a claim is nonsense, since the companies said that ISPs can’t block sites. But by giving ISPs the ability to do what they want, when they want on wireless networks, they are effectively allowed to block any site they want without any fear of recourse in that realm. That will be something to watch out for if Google’s proposal becomes law.
6. Everything will change on the Web
Whether the supporters of the net neutrality proposal agree or not, the Internet as it is known today works. Any site, no matter the size or bandwidth usage, is being treated equally. And because of that, it allows the Google, Yahoo and Facebook wannabes of the world to have a fighting chance at becoming a major business. Under the new proposal, all that could change. Startups would have the deck stacked against them. It’s unfortunate. And it seems that Google forgot where it came from.
7. What happens to the future?
Speaking of that, there is a real possibility that innovation on the Internet could be stymied if the Google-Verizon proposal becomes the regulatory basis for net neutrality. If entrepreneurs realize that starting a Web company is harder than ever and if the chances of a big company allowing a small firm to even get close to matching it are slim, why should those folks start the new company? The promise of the Internet’s freedom and level playing field has lured entrepreneurs for years. If net neutrality legislation takes aim at those entrepreneurs, they will undoubtedly go elsewhere.
8. It keeps the FCC at bay
The FCC may be the only organization that can help save network neutrality right now. But Google and Verizon’s proposal includes several references to their desire to keep the federal organization out of the loop. In fact, if a Website or online service provider believes that they are facing the aforementioned “meaningful harm,” Google would encourage them “to use nongovernmental dispute resolution processes established by independent, widely recognized Internet community governance initiatives.” It gets better: “The FCC would be directed to give appropriate deference to decisions or advisory opinions of such groups.”
9. Google isn’t on the ‘good’ side
Google has made it known that it wants to be the “good” company in the face of evil. But by striking an agreement with Verizon on its proposal, some believe that the search giant isn’t coming down on the “good” side. That’s unfortunate. Google should be the company that leads the charge on the Web and fights for the cause of net neutrality. Instead, it has effectively aligned itself with ISPs. Most who care about the net neutrality debate don’t believe ISPs are on the “good” side.
10. Google has influence in Washington
The good thing about the Google-Verizon proposal is that it isn’t law, and neither company has the authority to set policy. But that doesn’t mean that something extremely similar won’t become a regulation. Google has significant influence both in the White House and in Congress. In fact, its CEO, Eric Schmidt, sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. There are also several former Google employees working in various levels in the Obama administration. The search giant has influence in Washington. And it might rely upon that influence to push its agenda through. That wouldn’t be a good thing for Web users.