“Containing” net neutrality

In May, I blogged about the trans-Atlantic battle heating up over “net neutrality” over the Internet. In the US, the game just got hotter: despite a statement last week apparently to the contrary, Google is rumored to be closing a deal with the big US network operator Verizon that many think will have its data delivered to consumers ahead of its competition. If this deal goes through (and passes regulatory scrutiny there), then it would no doubt also have a future impact on how we access the Internet in Europe.

While on the one hand, Google strongly professes support for net neutrality, and in fact last week, even issued a joint statement with Verizon to that (somewhat watered-down) effect, on the other hand, the rumor is that Google plans an end run around this position. If the rumor is correct, Google would deposit containers of its servers in a Verizon parking lot (or other handy place) to enable them to get closer to Google’s users. This would allegedly permit fewer Internet ‘hops’ between user and Google, reduce the latency and thus speed up Google’s service as compared to Verizon’s other content provider-customers. In this way, Google would hope to ‘contain’ its apparent turnaround in positions.

Putting aside the debate about whether Google has sold out, then — if the rumor is true — (a) the network operators will be handed the same kind of commercial power that they would claim were net neutrality abandoned and (b) the scramble for space by content providers in Verizon’s (and other network operators’) “parking lots” could become a nightmare. In short, it would just move the debate from the regulatory to the real estate arena.

At this point, one thing appears certain: Google has apparently thrown in the towel on preserving net neutrality on wireless networks. Given the fact that in recent years wireless networks have become ever more attractive and widespread compared to fixed-line service, net neutrality supporters see this as a major defeat.

Making matters worse, the FCC (the US regulator in this area) seems to have thrown in the towel altogether. That seems to have alarmed at least four US Members of the House of Representatives who have now fired off a strong letter to the FCC this week urging them to get back into the game and to prevent what’s left of net neutrality from crumbling further. The letter brushes aside the Google/Verizon-attempt to define the debate and directly rebuts Google’s suggestion that wireless should in any way be treated differently from fixed-line services.

Lesson? Where Google and Verizon go, European providers and network operators are sure to follow. I wouldn’t unhook that fixed-line connection to your network operator just yet. 

In May, I blogged about the trans-Atlantic battle heating up over “net neutrality” over the Internet. In the US, the game just got hotter: despite a statement last week apparently to the contrary, Google is rumored to be closing a deal with the big US network operator Verizon that many think will have its data delivered to consumers ahead of its competition. If this deal goes through (and passes regulatory scrutiny there), then it would no doubt also have a future impact on how we access the Internet in Europe.

While on the one hand, Google strongly professes support for net neutrality, and in fact last week, even issued a joint statement with Verizon to that (somewhat watered-down) effect, on the other hand, the rumor is that Google plans an end run around this position. If the rumor is correct, Google would deposit containers of its servers in a Verizon parking lot (or other handy place) to enable them to get closer to Google’s users. This would allegedly permit fewer Internet ‘hops’ between user and Google, reduce the latency and thus speed up Google’s service as compared to Verizon’s other content provider-customers. In this way, Google would hope to ‘contain’ its apparent turnaround in positions.

Putting aside the debate about whether Google has sold out, then — if the rumor is true — (a) the network operators will be handed the same kind of commercial power that they would claim were net neutrality abandoned and (b) the scramble for space by content providers in Verizon’s (and other network operators’) “parking lots” could become a nightmare. In short, it would just move the debate from the regulatory to the real estate arena.

At this point, one thing appears certain: Google has apparently thrown in the towel on preserving net neutrality on wireless networks. Given the fact that in recent years wireless networks have become ever more attractive and widespread compared to fixed-line service, net neutrality supporters see this as a major defeat.

Making matters worse, the FCC (the US regulator in this area) seems to have thrown in the towel altogether. That seems to have alarmed at least four US Members of the House of Representatives who have now fired off a strong letter to the FCC this week urging them to get back into the game and to prevent what’s left of net neutrality from crumbling further. The letter brushes aside the Google/Verizon-attempt to define the debate and directly rebuts Google’s suggestion that wireless should in any way be treated differently from fixed-line services.

Lesson? Where Google and Verizon go, European providers and network operators are sure to follow. I wouldn’t unhook that fixed-line connection to your network operator just yet.

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