Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Net Neutrality: One Complicated Critter

Verizon has a love-hate relationship with Net Neutrality. The company professes its love of the open Internet, but then tries to smother it with a pillow in the middle of the night.
The next time you go online, pause for a moment and listen closely. Very closely, and you should be able to hear the sounds of long knives being sharpened by Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and the other major telecom players who understand that Net Neutrality is a threat to their all-consuming thirst for bigger profits through greater control of Internet access.

The concept of Net Neutrality is simple: That the Internet as it applies to broadband residential use is a level playing field. There are no restrictions on content or modes of communication, no information should have a higher priority than any
other, and users should be able to connect to each other in an unfettered manner.

But from there Net Neutrality gets incredibly complicated, notably the role of government in enforcing neutrality versus Internet providers' proprietary rights, as well as the vexsome question of whether Net Neutrality actually is a wolf in sheep's clothing because it might hinder the growth of the Internet, including the development of new networks.

If your eyes already are glazing over, that's understandable. Any serious discussion of Net Neutrality is freighted with layers of social, legal, commercial, political and technological issues. And the willfully deceitful tactics of Verizon, to name just one megacorporation that wants to ride the wolf.

Verizon, which piously proclaims its support for Net Neutrality, has asked a federal appeals court to overturn a Federal Communications Commission rule protecting Net Neutrality, a rule that the FCC adopted in December that is modeled on a policy framework drafted by . . . attorneys for Google and . . . uh, Verizon.

The reason is a real rib tickler:

"[Verizon] simply doesn't require pesky rules to stay honest," as Timothy Karr, campaign director of savetheinternet.com, puts it.
"Like Comcast before it, Verizon is arguing that we simply need to trust that it will keep its promises and protect the Internet's democratic nature.

"It's the same kind of trust that BP asked for when the oil company spent millions to lobby Washington for regulatory leniency in advance of last April's Deepwater Horizon disaster. It's the same kind of trust that Goldman Sachs wanted when it spent millions to lobby Washington for regulatory leniency in advance of the 2008 mortgage meltdown."

Oh, and Verizon claims that Net Neutrality violates its constitutional rights.

What Verizon and its brethren really want to do, of course, is
impose tiered service on you and I in order to reduce competition, block certain services, force subscribers to buy their own services no matter how uncompetitive they may be, and impose premiums for heavy use and bandwidth hungry peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent.

Comcast, for its part, has twice been caught red handed trying to choke off peer-to-peer traffic. It backed off both times, but is now suing the FCC for the right to control the Internet tap as it sees fit. And lurking in the background is the aforementioned threat to innovation.

The prospect of next-generation wireless networks undermining the broadband duopoly is sublime. But if the effect of Net Neutrality is to tamp down competition between Comcast and the other telecoms who make up the duopoly by throwing up barriers to new business models, let alone inhibit newcomers who have the Next Big Thing, then the supposed altruism of Net Neutrality begins to look kind of tainted.

See, I told you that this was one complicated critter.

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