Aren't all networks created equal, Google and Verizon?

The latest flack around Google’s joint announcement with Verizon on preserving the open Internet has had its fair share of media attention. Here is the source document that created the latest fracas: Verizon-Google Legislative Framework Proposal.

The joint Verizon-Google proposal addresses nine specific elements focused on preserving the open Internet (net neutrality.) These points include: consumer protections, non-discrimination requirement, transparency, network management, additional online services, wireless broadband, case-by-case enforcement, regulatory authority, and broadband access for Americans.

It’s not our intent to address each point individually. Most are self-explanatory. What we want to do is highlight the largest issue with this attempt to make the Internet more accessible. That being said, Verizon and Google are essentially claiming wireless is different, and that data on wireless networks need not be as “neutral” as data on wired networks. According to the Wireless Broadband element, “Because of the unique technical and operational characteristics of wireless networks, and the competitive and still-developing nature of wireless broadband services, only the transparency principle would apply to wireless broadband at this time.”

This is a pretty far-reaching statement, as it proposes to exempt wireless broadband networks from the consumer protections and non-discrimination requirement outlined in the proposal – the basic elements of net neutrality. The consumer protections element says service providers cannot prevent sending and receiving lawful content, running lawful applications, and connecting any legal devices to the network. The non-discrimination requirement prohibits service providers “from engaging in undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content, application or service in a manner that causes meaningful harm to competition or to users.” It goes on to be even more explicit: “Prioritization of Internet traffic would be presumed inconsistent with the non-discrimination standard …”.

If these proposals are accepted, providers of wireless services CAN block lawful traffic, applications and devices; and they can prioritize Internet traffic according to their own desires, presumably giving advantages to data or media from certain sources. But how did we get to this point? Aren’t wired and wireless networks essentially the same, other than the fact that wired networks got a head start? There are obviously some technological differences, but the underlying usage of the networks is the same, and that’s what defines a network - its usage. The same rules should apply to both wired and wireless networks, including blocking and prioritizing traffic differently depending on the source of the data. To make the claim that they should be treated differently because broadband wireless is “competitive and still-developing” seems quite self-serving. Couldn’t the same claim have been made for broadband-wired services 10 years ago?

We are very interested to see if the proposals get accepted and how this debacle will ultimately turn out. There is definitely something to watch here, especially if you share our view that wired and wireless networks are created equal…

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