Google, Verizon Net Neutrality Plan Brings Anguished Accusations

News Analysis: The recently announced agreement between Google and Verizon on net neutrality brings anguished accusations that the "deal" endangers the Internet, freedom of speech and free access.

Google and Verizon hadn't even finished their press conference about net neutrality before the anguished accusations started. Google, the complainers said, had abandoned its principles. The company had turned to the Dark Side. The plan was a threat to liberty, a free Internet, and all that's good and wholesome in the world.

Now that the plan has been public for a few hours, the concerns are becoming more thoughtful and less reactive, but they persist. For some, the biggest issue is the segregation of wireless and wire line access to the Internet. The reason given by Google and Verizon in their press conference-that wireless is a new and highly competitive technology-doesn't sit well with many people or with many public interest groups. Just how restrictive would the wireless Internet be? many wonder.

The second area of concern is the provision in the Google-Verizon proposal that would allow networks to provide their own premium content that's not part of the open Internet. Critics wonder, Would this create three Internets? Would there be the traditional Internet, the more restrictive wireless internet and a closed commercial Internet as well? And if there's a closed commercial Internet, what would happen to the open Internet? Would it wither away?

Tanya Snyder, DC Editor for Pacifica Radio's Free Speech Radio News, described the concerns of the public interest groups she covers. Their fear is that some people will be treated differently from others. Right now, she said, "The Internet is a level playing field." She said that this issue is especially important for what Snyder calls "marginalized voices" such as people of color, or people with progressive political views. She said that these groups fear there will be a fast lane on the Internet for those who can pay and a slow lane for everyone else.

There's also the part about passing only legal content on the Internet, and about network management on the Internet. Concerns about legal content have been voiced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which asks, What constitutes legal? While I haven't heard anyone proposing that content that sexually exploits children should be allowed on the Internet, there are legitimate questions about copyrighted material and fair use.

Would network providers be able to block downloading of copyrighted material when its ultimate use is allowed by Fair Use provisions of the copyright law? Or what about material that's legal in one jurisdiction but not in another? Would Christian religious sites be shut down because such material is illegal in some Muslim nations? Where is the line here?

Network management is a little different because it can mean a lot of things. From a technical standpoint, there needs to be some management for a network to be used effectively, but what constitutes proper management? Could a network provider block content from outside because it was concerned about bandwidth demands? Remember, this is the issue that got Comcast in trouble with the FCC, whose regulatory action was later overturned by the courts.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...