The Internet is abuzz with reports that the sky is falling and the end is near following the Google-Verizon proposal for “net neutrality”. On the contrary, Google and Verizon did the Internet a huge favor by demonstrating exactly why net neutrality is necessary, and creating a backlash strong enough to drive Congress and the FCC to do the right thing.
Throughout the struggle for net neutrality, the major Internet industry players that oppose the concept have ironically been the major catalysts proving just how much a written regulatory framework for net neutrality is needed. Comcast, AT&T, and now Google and Verizon continue to do their cause more harm than good.
Comcast drew first blood in the net neutrality battle by violating the principles of the Broadband Policy Statement established by the FCC in 2005. Intentionally choking peer-to-peer networking traffic, and giving other Internet traffic preferential treatment on the Comcast network drew attention to the cause and illustrated why the FCC should have stronger oversight to protect national and consumer interests.
Last fall, AT&T reversed its policy banning VoIP (Voice over IP) apps from using its 3G wireless network. The rejection of the Google Voice app, and the restriction of the Skype app to only Wi-Fi demonstrated that an unregulated broadband industry will act out of greed and self-interest–closing out competition and stifling innovation.
AT&T trumpeted the move as evidence of how well the industry polices itself and why net neutrality is unnecessary, but the reality is that the specter of net neutrality is what drove AT&T to reverse its policy. Had there not been an ongoing debate and threat of regulatory oversight, AT&T would have been happy to continue restricting access to its network.
Now, Google and Verizon come along like wolves in sheep’s clothing–developing a proposal to very narrowly define net neutrality, and with enough built-in intricacy and double-speak to leave the door wide open for industry players to interpret net neutrality to fit their needs. Putting “net neutrality” lipstick on that pig didn’t really fool anyone, though, and ultimately Google and Verizon helped the FCC cause for real net neutrality and did the general public a favor by proving why it’s needed.
If net neutrality were a game of chess, though, the industry players may have outwitted the FCC and dodged increased regulatory oversight of wired and wireless broadband simply by dragging things out. If the Republicans win back seats during the mid-term election–as is widely expected–corporations with deep pockets will have more friends in Congress and the FCC will have a more difficult time making the case for doing the job it was chartered to do.
The FCC Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking public comment and feedback on reclassifying broadband service to increase FCC oversight ends tomorrow–August 12. The FCC should ignore the Google-Verizon proposal, and forget about negotiating the future of the Internet with companies that stand to gain the most from an unregulated Internet, and simply march forth based on the wisdom and insight gathered during the NOI process.