Some of you may have heard about the secret negotiations between Google and Verizon last week where Google basically took the stand that net neutrality is no longer something they are necessarily concerned about. It is the kind of thing that I have long been expecting one of the big players to move toward and my lack of previous faith in Google has proved to be a bit valid. Suppose though, before I get into it to far I need to probably define what is meant by net neutrality.
For someone who is maybe not the uber geek it is a bit tricky to explain without making an analogy. If you think of the internet as a big bunch of highways connecting various end users to the locations that they want to have information from it may make it a bit easier. Those highways and roads all have so much capability to handle traffic. The more traffic on the a particular stretch of internet road (congestion) the more the traffic through that section will slow down. That part is pretty simple. Take it one step further though…
Lets assume that each section of road is owned by some different entity. That really isn’t that hard to see, as some roads are maintained and owned by the city, some the county, some the states and many larger roads are maintained by the states but clearly get federal dollars to build and maintain them. It doesn’t matter though, right? You can be from Alaska and provided you have the a valid drivers license (and even that is not always enforced equally) you have an equal right to drive on our Kentucky roads, just was we would have to the same equal right to get on the roads in say, Orange County California or Chicago, Illinois, or anyplace otherwise.
If you assume that ownership of the ‘roads’ is by private firms (like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.), the Internet is remarkably the same way. There are a number of electronic routes by which you can connect from on point to another. Granted you points of connection can change rapidly from one place to another, but the same general usage statements are true. I have just as much right to make the connection from point A to point B and move the information I desire along that route as anyone else does on this network.
In fact, while it has never been fully flushed out and defined, there are some general suggestions at the federal government level that lead one to think it is protected and will remain such. Fundamentally that everyone has just as much right to put information out there and equal access will be granted to the pathways for anyone to retrieve it. This is at least the suggestion that comes from the FCC, who probably has more right to decide than any other federal agency.
However, companies that provide the infrastructure of this highway network would like to be able to charge for premium service. This premium service would basically say the content providers that pay the most would get the best and fastest and in general preferential treatment. In other words, if a user requested information from my website it would be delivered in the slowest ‘lane’. Where as some big company like Google, that is willing to pay would get the super express fast lane. There is not so much an issue there on the surface, but think of where it could go. Easily information that is more on point and valid to what you are looking for may never be seen by you because someone who is not a clear match has just paid more to get the information to you quicker. It would quickly lead to a different, much more commercial driven Internet then we currently have.
I know, this seems a bit at odds with my general feeling that government should stay out of things. However, in this case the internet as we know it today largely evolved from government funding projects in defense and with research universities. I think this is one clear case where they have a right to say, keep it a neutral equal playing field given the development funds they have poured into the network and even the infrastructure over the years.
Bringing us back to Google, I admit, at least in what I read they did not come right out and say let us pay more to get faster better service than the small guys or even our competitors. What they did say though, spoke volumes, in there side-stepping beating around the bush language. They basically said they would not be opposed and could clearly see a day where providers (such as themselves) would clearly be okay with and even motivated to adopt such a pay for such faster access. It says clearly to me all the folks out there that have been down on Microsoft over the last several years should really be wary of Google and their motivations going forward.
** – Image from geeky-gadgets.com.