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Good Will Shunting: Google’s distressing turn on Net neutrality

I’ll wait for details before making up my mind about the Google-Verizon deal on Net neutrality, but CEO Eric Schmidt’s comments are somewhere between distressing and a stab in the back:

I want to be clear what we mean by net neutrality. What we mean is if you have one data type like video, you don’t discriminate against one person’s video in favor of another. But it’s OK to discriminate across different types, so you could prioritize voice over video, and there is general agreement with Verizon and Google on that issue.

That sort of neutrality would forbid access providers from playing favorites within a market — Comcast wouldn’t be allowed to let programs from NBC run smoothly while programs from CBS and YouTube run like unsprocketed crap — but, it gives up the most important non-market principle of the Internet: The Internet is not for anything in particular. It is for everything we can imagine. It is for us to decide what its for. The Internet is ours, not Verizon’s, not the FCC’s, and not Google’s.

So, why might Google be switching to a version of Net neutrality that is not neutral about what the Net is for? We could give Google the benefit of the doubt — “Don’t be evil” and all that — but when they start to pull this sort of crap, they lose some of the good will they’ve earned.

So, one possible, uncharitable explanation: Google has joined the chorus of commercial entities that think the Internet is for the delivery and passive consumption of “content.” That is, the Internet is a type of TV link 1 link 2. Why might Google be thinking this way? Perhaps because it doesn’t want YouTube videos to be discriminated against. Or, more likely, it wants Google TV to be able to compete well. So, because Google is growing a TV business, it now gets to decide that TV needs to shoulder aside all other traffic on the Net.

Is my guess right? I don’t know. I’m not saying I can read Schmidt’s mind. All I’m saying is that when Google acts like Verizon and Comcast, it heads toward deserving all of the good will that Verizon and Comcast have managed to accumulate.


Sen. Al Franken is asking US citizens to sign a petition to save Net neutrality.


A proposal: We shorten “Verizon-and-Comcast” to “VomiCast.” Just a thought.

11 Responses to “Good Will Shunting: Google’s distressing turn on Net neutrality”

  1. Wait a minute, aren’t we at war with Eastasia? Haven’t we always been at war with Eastasia? Or was that Eurasia? Net Neutrality is what Google wants, right? Or was that, what Google wants, is Net Neutrality?

    I’m looking forward to using this incident to refine my cynical models of Internet policy politics.

  2. […] Weinberger points out Eric […]

  3. Hi,

    Aren’t Google just accepting how eg. ADSL works right now? Usualy telco reserves high quality bandwith for the ADSL providers own VoIP. And for IPTV the telco usually also has it’s own virtual interfaces and QoS possibilities on the its ADSL modems, I think.

    So at least for ADSL I think the most important aspect of net-neutrality is non-discrimination on the internet-data interfaces. Like Eric Schmidt says. For fiber I don’t know.

    Best
    Anders

  4. since the launch of the ipad I m afraid of something
    the increase of people that will use the internet, and their “computers”
    only for consumption
    you can t really create a nice video, an animation, or even a good piece of multimedia whatever with an ipad

    I am afraid we are witnessing the split of the netcitizens between creators/aka geeks and users

    and I am not sure that someone that is just a user will ever complain about net neutrality as we mean it

    I am very concerned about this

  5. Honestly, I think the explanation is much less cynical than that. ISP’s *need* to be able to give certain types of traffic less weight than others, else internet video/tv will just push away all other types of traffic. What they’re doing is accepting that technical reality and refining that concept so that ISP’s can’t use it against certain companies. Surely that’s a good thing?

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  7. Today, in the NY Times, a report indicates that Commissioner Genachowski is working to ensure net neutrality and not allow “providers to offer faster Internet transmission to content providers willing to pay higher fees”. Please see the article for details. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/06/technology/internet/06fcc.html?hp

    Gee whiz, I’m his brother and I can’t even make a link!!

  8. Well, how do you like that. It became a link when it uploaded, even though it did not look like one when I pasted it in! You learn something new every day.

  9. When it comes to long-haul transport across OCxxxx transmission lines, certain types of content need to have priority since overall capacity is limited, and certain content (like video and voice, for example) wouldn’t be acceptable if an end-user could discern the arrival of packets. Relatively static web content, email, text messages, and the like don’t care. So there needs to be some priority by type.

    However, the premium-pay-for-premium-carriage idea is the dangerous one, in my view. If the rules and provisions that the dominant players want to institute now that they’re winning were in place at the time they were entering their respective businesses, many of them would have withered and died during their startup phase, and not have been in the business today. Something about golden eggs and geese comes to mind.

  10. “The Internet is not for anything in particular. It is for everything we can imagine. It is for us to decide what its for. The Internet is ours, not Verizon’s, not the FCC’s, and not Google’s.”

    David, how I wish that were true! But it ain’t. Like freedom of the press, it belongs to whoever owns the press (in this case, the Internet infrastructure).

  11. Mr. Baccanio has it right above. Radio is a two way medium but 99% of people only have receivers and not transmitters. Radio and TV turned into a consumption media. The same thing seems to be now happening to the Internet. It isbecoming a comsumption media.

    Everyday I try to teach students how to become producers of knowledge rather than just comsumers. I try to get them to write the internet as well as read it.


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