Last week, we joined the rest of the news and blog world in worrying about what Verizon and Google's net neutrality "deal" would mean for the future of the Internet. Now, the two companies iterated a spirit of openness, but it's too early to sigh in relief yet.
Why the worry? While it does look like Google and Verizon have their priorities straight — enforceable net neutrality with no prioritization of traffic — yet the full effects of the policy can't be known just yet. How is wireless to be handled, for example? But we'll get to that in a moment.
Below is a quick glance at Google and Verizon's proposal for how Internet content and consumers should be handled. Each one is marked with either "wired" or "wireless," denoting which — by Google's own language — the rule pertains to. In some cases, neither service is mentioned and we've gone ahead and marked those "unstated."
The 7 Net Commandments
1. Enforceable Openness (Wired): Consumers should "have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose," and the "proposal would now make those principles fully enforceable at the FCC."
2. Content Equality (Wired): "This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition." (This includes paid prioritization.)
3. Full Transparency (Wired/Wireless): "Broadband providers would be required to give consumers clear, understandable information about the services they offer and their capabilities." This would extend to the likes of developers of applications and companies who are interested in using a network to reach consumers.
4. Clear FCC Authority (Unstated): "Specifically, the FCC would enforce these openness policies on a case-by-case basis, using a complaint-driven process. The FCC could move swiftly to stop a practice that violates these safeguards, and it could impose a penalty of up to $2 million on bad actors."
5. "Additional, Differentiated Online Services": This is where it gets a little hairy, though Google sells it hard as important to innovation. The company wants to make it so "broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services" and gives Verizon's FIOS network as an example, which is a hybrid television/Internet service. These additional services would have to be made clear to the consumer, and the FCC would still oversee the development of these services to protect this idea of an open Internet.
6. Developing Wireless (Wireless): Google sees the wireless space as something that is still forming and should be treated differently than wireline services, and, as such, "under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement." That means those first two commandments — enforceable openness and content equality — would not apply to the wireless space. Hopefully this proposed transparency would keep companies from taking advantage of the consumer through wireless.
7. Broadband For All: Google supports the "reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund" and "deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available." This is mostly just tacked-on. Only time will tell what happens with this one.
In the end, Google sees this as giving the FCC the clear, defined power the company thinks the agency needs to be effective, "while also allowing broadband providers the flexibility to manage their networks and provide new types of online services." It also helps foster innovation in the space, which Google CEO Eric Schmidt said is crucial as "An open Internet allows for the next Google to be created."
Where's there's still some concern is this division between wired services and wireless. Speaking to the New York Times Media Access Project analyst and senior vice president Andrew Jay Schwartzman voiced this issue most succinctly: "The plan raises as many questions as it answers. For example, it does not disclose the standard to be used in resolving consumer complaints. One question that the plan does definitively answer is that the non-discrimination proposal would never apply to wireless. That alone makes this arrangement a non-starter."
The policy isn't law yet, of course. We'll have to wait and see how things will shake out.