One of the biggest surprises this week was the net neutrality announcement from Google and Verizon (Googizon). The New York Times covers the announcement here and the situation raises significant concerns about future control and innovation on the Internet.
Net neutrality relates to freedom of accessing data on the Internet and it suggests that all Internet content should be treated equally and that ISPs have no right to limit access or bandwidth to specific sites or content types. ISPs like Comcast, Time Warner or even AT&T Wireless argue that they should be able to control access to certain types of data or sites that could impact their network. Some ISPs have already implement technology to prevent access to certain technologies like BitTorrent. it is in the context of these concerns that Googizon announced their net neutrality proposal.
The Googizon perspective
The document put forth is restrictive and clearly favors the ISPs. The Huffington Post has a good article discussing the document. To summarize, the key points are:
- No net neutrality on wireless networks
- Proposed net neutrality rules on wired networks are so weak as to be pointless
- ISPs could split their pipes and charge separately for each thus creating a two tiered system. One for content providers who pay them (and get better performance and reliability) and the other for content providers who don’t pay them
- The FCC becomes a worthless watchdog
I believe that this situation is very bad for the consumer. The Internet has been a force of innovation. New businesses have been built such as Amazon.com, Facebook, eBay, Twitter and many others. When these sites started, they had very little traffic and had to fight aggressively for eyeballs. This is naturally competitive and less compelling solutions disappeared. This process of innovation allows consumers to vote for the winning sites with their money and clicks and only works because all competitors are on an even playing field.
The new Googizon proposal breaks this. By controlling what sites can be accessed (point 2 above) and the performance of each site (point 3), the ISP has the ability to influence or even control the sites and technologies that succeed and fail. Naturally, the ISPs will favor options that benefit them. Thus winning technologies may not be the companies or solutions that best benefit consumers, but rather those that provide the best financial or business incentives to the ISP. This creates a massive alignment problem and a hypothetical example will clarify my concerns.
YouTube is a bandwidth intensive site due to streaming video. It emerged when net neutrality was largely still in place. Had YouTube appeared post Googizon proposal, you could easily imagine ISPs limiting access to the site due to bandwidth restrictions. The end result is that YouTube’s innovation could be stifled and the company might not be succeed. Of course, YouTube is successful (and is part of Google), but what about the next YouTube-like service? I have serious concerns about these companies.
In summary, I think that net neutrality is critical for the long-term success of the Internet. New business models are constantly appearing and disappearing and this is what keeps the Internet strong. By giving the ISPs dictatorial control over the Internet pipes, the Googizon model does a tremendous disservice to the consumer and the Internet as a whole. I just cannot understand how a company like Google that claims its motto is “Don’t be evil” could endorse something that is so anti-consumer. Perhaps evil is in the eye of the beholder and can be ignored when financially beneficial?