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Google discusses net neutrality

Those of you who have been clamoring for more information about the current net neutrality fight (who am I kidding… a total of 4 people read that post :P) will be happy to know that I’m not the only one talking about it. Our old friends at Google, after discussing the issue with Verizon, have tabled a proposal for net neutrality rules:

The two companies on Monday announced seven principles for U.S. regulators to use when crafting so-called net neutrality rules. The suggestions include the prohibition of wired broadband providers from discriminating between different kinds of internet traffic, a rule that would also prevent charging content providers extra fees for prioritized traffic.

They propose fines (which are too small, in my opinion, but it’s the right direction) for anyone violating the rules, and guidelines for transparency rules.

Sounds good, what’s the catch?

The new rules would not initially apply to the wireless internet in order to preserve the incentives for service providers to continue investing in what is a relatively new technology, the companies said. The companies also suggested the rules should not apply to specialized services that use the internet but are not actually a part of it, such as a specific gaming channel or a more secure banking service.

Now maybe I’m missing some relevant information here, but that seems completely reasonable. Wireless infrastructure has not had as long as wired internet to turn a profit for the companies who invested the capital to develop it. Allowing them to monetize wireless services will provide incentive for them to develop and market newer types of services; penalizing them for innovating will do the opposite. These are corporations, not charities – they are in it to make money, and in a capitalist framework that’s a good thing.

And yet, the critics are losing their shit:

[The above] two suggestions in particular, however, drew heavy criticism from consumer groups, technology bloggers and other internet companies.

I can understand if there is a risk of a Trojan Horse ploy, by which consumer internet access is re-classified as “specialized services”, but that’s an issue that can readily be settled in the courts. What I can’t understand is why providing different levels of service to internet banking and gambling websites will in any way infringe upon the individual’s ability to speak freely.

You who who else doesn’t understand it? Google Vice-President and long term net neutrality advocate Vint Serf:

I viewed the discussions with Verizon as an experiment or an exploration of how two rather polarized views of net neutrality could ultimately end up reaching some sort of compromise that both parties would be equally unhappy with. In some ways this represents not a stake in the ground, but rather the exploration of common ground and what that common ground might look like. I see it as a kind of homework assignment that Verizon and Google have attempted to complete just to show what happens when you try to come to some kind of common perspective.”

I hope that I have established my credibility as someone who cares passionately about free speech. Net neutrality is vital to the grassroots development of ideas and entrepreneurial innovation – look how the internet has changed the way we look at the world and conduct our daily lives since it became widely available in the 1990s. Imagine what will happen in the next 20 years.

That being said, I don’t see these rules as being unreasonable. As Serf points out, there needs to be a compromise between doing the ideal thing and what is practical in business terms. Verizon (and Google) exist to make money. They do so by providing us with the means to access the internet. In order for this dynamic to be able to continue, we have to embrace the reality that everything changes. We must be willing to adapt to the political and business realities. Standing resolute on the spot and objecting over issues that harm nobody and are completely reasonable compromises doesn’t do anything to protect the consumers that these critics claim to represent.

Disagree? I want to hear why.

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