Google and Verizon’s Deceptive Statement

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Google and Verizon’s “Joint policy statement for an open Internet” reminds me of Congressional legislation with names like “Clean Water Act” and “Clear Skies Act.” Too often, these acts seem intended to accomplish the opposite of what their names claim. The idea is to hope the name fools the the public into supporting legislation that they would otherwise oppose.

And so it is with this joint Internet statement. Much of it is devoted to touting the companies’ unswerving support for an open Internet and principles of “Net neutrality.” The two companies proudly assert: “This new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic - including paid prioritization.”

It isn’t until you get to the sixth of the statement’s “seven key elements” that you uncover the true nature of this Trojan Horse: “In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless.”

In other words, almost all of the proposed protections for Internet traffic would apply only to the “wireline” Internet. In the domain of the “wireless” Internet, Verizon and Google would be free to discriminate as much as they liked.

This is a great “compromise” for Verizon. While their Internet business is not entirely wireless (they have their own DSL service), wireless is the side of their bread that gets the butter. It’s not much of a sacrifice for them to concede net neutrality to wireline networks. Let Comcast fight the wireline fight. The policy helps Google as well. Given the company’s immense resources, they would be a prime beneficiary of any special preference. In the end, the principles espoused in this statement could help eradicate Google competitors unable to afford “favored nation” treatment.

What’s the rationale for this wireless exception? There is none. The companies claim the exception is needed because the wireless market is “different” and “more competitive and changing rapidly.” Exactly why such characteristics require a different set of rules is not explained.

Why is it not explained? Because there is no good explanation. Verizon and Google simply hope to slip this disaster-in-the-making under the radar — in the guise of supporting Internet neutrality.

I expect this sort of deviousness from Verizon. I am more surprised at Google. I guess it’s time to take off my rose-colored glasses. All publicly-traded companies need to answer to stockholders more than the general public — and thus need to maximize their profit, growth, and competitive advantage at almost any cost. Google is no exception.

What might this proposal mean to you if it became a reality? Imagine this scenario as one example: You are using Safari on your iPhone to check comments to your latest blog entry. At the moment, you are at a free Wi-Fi hotspot at Starbucks. All is going well. After leaving the store, you continue your checking, attempting to load a second page of comments. As you reach beyond the range of Starbuck’s Wi-Fi, the iPhone switches to 3G. You have come to expect that 3G access may mean a slower loading of Web pages. But what happens is significantly worse than you expect. Loading of your blog page slows to a crawl. Why? Because your mobile phone carrier has decided to give your Web page a low priority.

It could get worse. Your mobile carrier could decide to block your blog’s host from loading on its service at all — unless your host ponies up a fee. A different carrier may be more generous, allowing your Web page to load unrestricted for no fee. The end result could be a world where your blog loads at dramatically different rates — if it loads at all — depending on the carrier. Or where your blog loads at a very different rate from someone else’s blog even on the same carrier — because of carrier-imposed restrictions. This would be a crazy world.

You may partially dismiss my concerns on the grounds that most Internet access today is through wirelines. Don’t be lulled. In the years ahead, 3G and other wireless forms of Internet access are certain to increase their share of the Internet pie.

You may claim that I am “catastrophising” here, describing scenarios that, while technically possible, are unlikely to ever become reality. Perhaps. But as long as nothing in the proposal prohibits such outcomes, I am not ready to dismiss them.

I can accept the need for some potential preferential treatment of Internet access. There may be sites that qualify as a “911” level of importance — and thus deserve special priority. Additionally, a case could be made for certain sites (that require a lot of bandwidth) to get a boost that would not be needed for low bandwidth sites. Regardless, I would not trust companies like Google and Verizon to be in charge of making these decisions — not unless you want the proverbial foxes in charge of the hen house.

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6 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

At least Ted is philosophically consistent. By advocating jailbreaking, he presumably does not think that Apple should be entrusted to make decisions about what should run on its platform. I can’t say the same for most commenters here.

JonGl

Yet I see things differently. I am not a fan of net neutrality. The scenarios offered would never be allowed by consumers. Sure, some dumb companies may try to do what is surmised, but you can well imagine that such policies could not last long. It’s a scenario that nobody really wants on either side. In fact, as soon as the government _does_ get involved in “net neutrality” just like Ted said, it will turn out to be anything _but_ neutral. Look at health care. Look at anything else the government “regulates.” See my thoughts on the anti-trust thread, or maybe I’ll summarize it here. Regulation allows one company to use government like a blunt weapon to force others to do their bidding. It is ugly, and better left between private enterprise to battle it out in the market place. Because, in the end, the customer has the final say, not (even) the stockholders.

-Jon

skipaq

Let me state right up front that our government over regulates. The reason they do so is usually tied to some agency’s need to justify not only its’ existence but also more money to operate. Having said that the idea of business entities being able to run free of all regulation is a frightening proposition. Just think for a minute about your food supply or eating at a restaurant. Try driving without any regulations. May be fun if you are alone on a highway; but will get deadly in a hurry otherwise.

I am with Ted on this one. It is better not the let this kind of deal get done without at least a public hearing. Why should Verizon be trusted to be ethical any more than some other bandwidth provider? Why should Google be trusted to be ethical any more than another content provider? Is it not at least possible that these two giants will structure the details of this deal in such a way as to give themselves an advantage over their competitors?

Our government has as much responsibility in this issue as any other. Someone says that we can correct any abuse by taking our business elsewhere. That is fine when there is fair competition. What would happen if all the major bandwidth providers decided to be a part of or duplicate a potential abusive charge? There are such things as price fixing among competitors.

Dean Lewis

I didn’t see the word jailbreak or Apple anywhere in this piece. I’m pretty sure this article is about Verizon and Google and the state of net neutrality.

There must be a good mix of government rules and private enterprise interplay in order to make it work for the consumer. Leaving it wide open (i.e. laissez-faire) doesn’t work as we’ve clearly seen in history with companies taking advantage of workers or becoming monopolies. Full and hard regulation doesn’t work, especially when there are so many ideas of how to regulate and none of them seem to do great. (I’m looking at you, regulated electricity and cable industries where one choice for a whole region isn’t necessarily giving consumers what they want nor keeping prices down.) The extremes at either end are not working. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see-saw between them for a long time before anything—if ever—is done that works out for the regular folks.

geoduck

I completely agree with Ted Landau. The internet is a pub;lic utility. As such it does not belong to Verizon or Google or whomever’s wires it goes over any more than the electricity belongs to Northern States Power, or BCHydro. It is a public service that must be provided equally to all for uploading or downloading. I would no more tolerate Shaw, our local provider, throttling, than I would tolerate BCHydro telling me it would only supply 85VAC to non Sony TVs. A PUBLIC utility is for the PUBLIC good.

Nemo

I am glad to be in full accord with Mr. Landau’s comments here.  However, I would direct him to some additional shenanigans that Google and Verizon are attempting.  In their Fifth proposal, they, Google and Verizon, establish the category of online services as distinct from Internet access, and in online services, the FCC wouldn’t have any authority to regulate online services, but could only monitor them.  Well, Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the FCC, is a bright boy, so I doubt that neither he or his lawyers will fall for that one.  Because taking away the FCC’s authority to regulate services opens the door to the very kind of discrimination against disfavored types of content and/or services on the wired and wireless Internet that the FCC’s proposed rules on Net Neutrality are designed to prohibit. 

For example, the Verizon and its ilk could discriminate on both the wired and wireless Internet against disfavored services using both price and/or restrictions on service, and thus, do an end-run around the very openness that they claim to support.  Stopping this will be up to the FCC and the people, who are overmatched by the telecoms and our bought-and-paid-for Congress.  As much as I want Ted and the people to win, I’d be a fool to not put my money on Google and Verizon.

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