Google and Net Neutrality: Business First

Aug 16 10

Google and Net Neutrality: Business First

Paul Weinstein

The Story Thus Far

Earlier this month the New York Times published an article entitled “Google and Verizon Near Deal on Web Pay Tiers” in which the paper outlined a pending agreement between Google and Verizon that would allow for prioritizing certain traffic across the Internet. Google’s initial public reaction to the story was to say that the Times didn’t have its facts straight and that if they had just called, Google would have been happy to have answered any questions the paper had.

Many, I think, saw Google’s initial reaction to the article as an outright rejection that any sort of “deal” was in the works. However, just a few days later Google announced “A Joint Policy Proposal for an Open Internet” in which they outlined a “principled compromise our companies have developed over the last year concerning the thorny issue of ‘network neutrality.”

Wait, what? Web Pay Tiers? Network Neutrality?

Ok, for the uninitiated the term network neutrality (net neutrality), refers to the formalization of what has been, more or less, standard practice; that very limited, if any, restrictions should be allowed to be put in place by any service providers or government on the content or equipment that can connect to the Internet as a whole.

Conversely, many service providers argue that bandwidth is limited in scope and that without the ability to prioritize traffic and access they will ultimately fail in providing what has become a necessary service to many individuals and businesses.

In short order, Google in the past has advocated open, unrestricted access and even encapsulated the phrase “Don’t be evil” as a corporate motto of sorts while companies such as Version have argued that the health and livelihood of their business models depend on tiered data networks, regardless of the level of service offered.

The proposed agreement between Google and Verizon has been analyzed by a number of groups and individuals since its publication. The basic outline of which reads: Google and Verizon agree that all “wirelines” shall be open and unencumbered. However unlike a “wireline”, “wireless” (cellular) broadband is still an emerging marketplace and, as such, requires a different set of governing principles (or at least should not be handicapped by United States regulation (via the FCC) requiring the same open and unencumbered requirement as a “wireline”).

Google argues that in order to reach an agreement with Verizon, like any workable agreement, they needed to make compromises in order to move forward. Critics of the agreement argue that Google has “sold out” on the idea of net neutrality, noting that the “wireless” compromise between the two companies just so happens to cover the same business segment where Google and Verizon are business partners via Google’s Android platform for smartphones.

Personal Take: Business First

While I personally believe that businesses should be held to higher standard than simply generating profit, I realize that, no mater what I feel, a business must make sound business decisions, else that business will cease to be in business.

Google’s mature, core business, search, requires open access for users to use and open standards for access to third-party data that it then aggregates, warehouses and mines. However, Google’s potential growth business, wireless, is in competition between a number of other closed or semi-closed computing platforms (iPhone, Blackberry, RIM, et al).

Consider the following philosophy a variation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which I consider in high regard as outlined for individuals: Before a business can operate in a socially conscious way, the business must first be profitable. If a business, or business unit of a larger corporation, can align its strategy with a greater social cause, that is be profitable while being highly attuned to and influential in a current social concern, then the business can reached a higher level of “growth”

Thus, to me, it seems unsurprising that Google is willing to build a policy around a fundamental division between wired and wireless networks. Nor do I feel there has been any “betrayal” of whatever higher “don’t be evil” value Google wishes to place on its businesses as a whole.

But that doesn’t mean I like the agreement anymore than others. In fact, for the most part, I feel the EFF’s review of the proposed agreement between Google and Verizon, is inline with my own initial read of the policy and viewpoint with regard to net neutrality.

Unfortunately for Google, its internal division of business between “wireline” and “wireless” is hardly an ideal division for the rest of us. This means while there are potentially good suggestions with the agreement, there are also some potential bad and ugly ramifications for a division between “wireline” and “wireless”.

The Take Away: Hardly the End of the Internet
Obviously, this whole post is a quick summary of a very complex and evolving issue.

But that’s the final point to make here. This is not the end of the Internet as we know it in which Google, Verizon and a handful of others carve it up between themselves. Instead this is an interesting proposal, an experiment in suggested policy, that may or may not point to a balancing point between different social, business and individual interests.

As Carl Sagon once wrote about the American form of democracy, “In almost all of these cases, adequate control experiments are not performed, or variables are insufficiently separated. Nevertheless, to a certain and often useful degree, policy ideas can be tested. The great waste would be to ignore the results of social experiments because they seem to be ideologically unpalatable.”