The great Googizon conspiracy

11 Aug 2010

There’s been no end of dithering over the Google-Verizon proposal on a framework for Net neutrality.

I’m not surprised at the emotion of the reaction, if only because the debate over net neutrality – at least in the US – has already been hijacked by conspiracy theories in which either the Obama administration or Rich Greedy Telcos are scheming to take over the Internet and control every last packet of content on it. So I get that it’s hard to have a rational discussion about this nowadays.

Which is a shame because the proposed framework, on paper, is actually not a bad effort at compromise between two long-time opponents in the Net neutrality ring.

In its current form, the framework prohibits discrimination and paid prioritization on the open Internet, but acknowledges the need of network operators to create “fast lanes” separate from the open Internet for heavy-bandwidth services that that need guaranteed bandwidth – and that telcos and ISPs have the right to charge extra for content providers or anyone else who wants to use that pipe rather than the regular Internet.

It’s hardly perfect, of course. Ovum’s chief telecom analyst Jan Dawson notes that the framework exempts “a vague category of ‘additional, differentiated services’ from most of these rules,” as well as wireless networks (except for the transparency provisions), which is so ill-defined that it practically renders the entire framework meaningless.

“The definition and limits for this category will have to be tightened up considerably before they can be meaningful,” Dawson said in a research note.

But even that may not be enough for those net neutrality advocates who worry that the framework will encourage telcos to simply abandon the open Internet in favor of investing in exclusive fast-lane pipes. I sincerely doubt that will happen – the open net is still a source of revenue, and telcos as a rule do not turn away from anything that is still making them money (nor can they afford to at this stage).

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