Net Neutrality: What's The Deal?

Ever since Verizon and Google made their announcement last week, the Internet has been a-buzz with pundits of all sorts screaming, shaking fists at they heavens, scratching their heads in puzzlement, etc.  Personally, I'm not entirely sure that I understand what all the fuss is about.

That is not me being argumentative or dissembling.  I don't pretend to understand all of the nuances of what Google and Verizon agreed to, but in terms of what it means to the consumer right now, they may as well have agreed that the Earth is flat.  It's interesting and could very well be completely wrong, but we won't be changing any educational curriculum or getting rid of any globes any time soon.

So what exactly is the deal between the two companies?  As I said before, much of it is lost on me and, quite frankly, I don't know that anyone fully understands it.  There seems to be quite a bit of ambiguity in the agreement/proposal that is open to interpretation.  Since this is not policy, this is not surprising.  It is, of course, generating quite a bit of discussion.


Google is Evil


The subtext of everything I've heard and read on this subject is that Google has become Evil even though they said they wouldn't.  Really?  A multi-billion dollar company looking out for their interests is Evil?  There is as much ambiguity in that word as there is in the proposal.  Complete altruism is not a business model that shareholders can get behind.

Aside from being a somewhat silly idea in the first place, the discussion of Google's Evilness only distracts from the real issue, in my opinion.


We the People of the Internet


Something else I have heard is that We own the Internet and these big corporations don't have the right to control it.  I understand the sentiment and I don't wholly disagree with it, but this is an emotional response to a problem that needs to be addressed with more rational dialog.

For instance, I may keep the family jewels in a safety deposit box at the bank.  (I might!  You don't know!)  I own them, but I can only get them when the bank is open, if I have my key, if I can prove who I am or at least that I have a right to the contents of the box, etc.  There are good reasons why these things are in place even though they act as an impediment to me getting to my stuff whenever I want.  Likely, there would be some concern if access were granted too easily.

If I break into a bank and get caught, no amount of monologuing about how the bank is keeping me from my family jewels is going to keep me from going to jail.  No matter how impassioned and moving my speech might be.

And this is what this whole discussion boils down to.  Access.



The Information Superhighway


Remember that old meme?  It turns out that the highway is not "super" for everyone.  In terms of broadband access, the US is way behind much of the rest of the world.  But even in the US we have superhighways, highways, toll roads, side roads, alleys, dirt roads and trails. Wired and wireless access falls squarely into this discussion.  If wired access is a superhighway then wireless is merely a highway.  As someone whose residence just got 3G access from AT&T last week, I can say that my wireless access via Edge was more akin to an Information Dirt Road than anything.



Managed Services


Sticking with the highway analogy, are "managed services" anything more than emergency or HOV lanes?  I mean, my tax dollars/tolls paid for the roads I drive on.  Don't I own that road?  Why should someone tell me I can't drive in the left-hand lane just because I am the only person on the car?  Or that I can't drive on the shoulder because they need to stay clear for emergency vehicles?  The fact is that these restrictions are in place for a reason and whether or not I agree with the reasons or restrictions, I am bound to abide by them because that is The Law.



Who Is The Law?


So before any of this really matters, proposals need to become policies.  These companies may make agreements and act upon them.  If consumers suffer because of it then consumers need to act as they have always done.  Just as altruism is not a business model, neither is pissing off the people who pay for your services.  We can vote with our wallets (a favorite saying of mine).  If there are no options (as in a monopoly) we can petition the government (FTC, DOJ, whatever).  If it truly is Our Internet, then we need to fight for it by using whatever tools we have at our disposal.  At least up to the point where policies become binding.

So what is the fear here?  That the US Government will just rubber stamp this agreement and call it a day?  How long has this discussion been going on?  For years.  How long will it continue with things as they were yesterday?  I would bet on it being years also.  Who has the power to implement solutions?

... huh ...

I think this is what really has everyone stumped.  Does the FCC have the power?  Or is this an FTC thing?  I don't think they even know that.  They seem annoyed that Google and Verizon (Veroogle?) have undermined their authority, but it seems to me that they didn't have much authority to undermine.  Do we really expect big business to stand aside while the government wrings its hands, stares into the distance and continues to do nothing?

What do other countries do?  Is net neutrality a purely American concept?  Is there a model somewhere else that works which we can adopt?  Should we start driving down the left-hand side of our superhighway Internet like they do in the UK?  Or should we be satisfied with the dirt road Internet with security checkpoints that they have in China?




What Is The Answer?


Why are you looking at me?  It's quite obvious that I don't have any answers.  I barely understand the questions!  But what seems apparent to me is that if it were not for Google and Verizon, the discussion would continue on as an interesting thought exercise; imagining what could be instead of making the hard decisions and risks (both financial and political) that it will take to get something meaningful done.

So thank you, Veroogle!  I do not for an instance believe that you did this for Us, The Owners of the Internet.  I think you were trying to make things happen for your own best interests before a decision was made that would have tied your hands.  I can't fault you for that and I don't think it makes you Evil.

Now let's see what The Opposition has got because this whole mess is just the beginning.