Everyone relax, Google and Verizon want you to know they're not out to destroy net neutrality, as previously reported. In fact, they've got a few suggestions on how not to ruin the future of the Internet.
In a joint conference call on Monday, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg announced a few joint policies that will pacify net neutrality supporters. Both companies oppose slowing down, blocking or prioritizing wired Internet traffic of any legal kind, and they said the Federal Communications Commission should be able to enforce the rules with fines. Google and Verizon also support the principle of transparency, so you know what your Internet service provider is doing.
Public vs. Private Internet
So far, so good, but here's where it gets tricky: In addition to the "public Internet," which is basically what you're enjoying right now, Verizon wants the right to maintain a private Internet, on which companies can pay for fast delivery of traffic. Seidenberg said these private uses could include medical services or education, but he also left the door open to entertainment and gaming.
At this point, even Verizon doesn't really know what this means. The company's public policy blog says the proposal "includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules." But Seidenberg mentioned 3D as a possible service, even though there's technically nothing stopping a company from delivering 3D content over the Internet now. Without more concrete examples, I'm not confident that Verizon's private Internet wouldn't some day seem like a way to put the squeeze on streaming video or online gaming.
Paid Fast Lane: Good vs. Bad Idea
On the bright side, Verizon's devotion to transparency means you'd at least know what services are buying fast access, and how they are supposedly different from something you could get over the public Internet. Also, Google's Schmidt stressed that the company won't be offering anything over the private Internet, so no priority access for YouTube or Gmail.
The other red flag is mobile broadband. With the exception of transparency requirements, Verizon and Google want cellular data to be exempt from the policies they've proposed. While Seidenberg said the purpose of this policy is to allow wireless carriers to manage their traffic according to demand, it doesn't rule out the possibility that one video company could pay for faster traffic than all the others. Again, the transparency policy at least means you'd know about it.
What's going to happen with these grand statements on net neutrality? Schmidt stressed that there is no business deal between Google and Verizon. It's just a policy proposal, and he said the FCC will comment once it has a chance to read the proposal. In the meantime, you can read it yourself at the public policy blogs of Google and Verizon.