In the summer of 2010, Google and Verizon teamed up to argue that network neutrality rules should not apply to mobile networks. They largely won; the FCC passed rules that let the carriers discriminate against third party applications as long as they disclosed the practice. They also allowed wireless companies to block applications that don’t compete against their telephone services. That’s not unlike being able to verbally abuse your boss as long as you say, “with all due respect” first. Verizon wasn’t satisfied with the FCC’s ruling, sued anyway and a federal appeals court removed the FCC’s prohibitions. The debate has been raging since then, but now Google have created a page to subscribers asking them to take action. On the page, Google state that their values remain the same, that the Internet should be “competitive and open.” Their stated wish is that the Internet is a level playing field where “new entrants and established players can reach users on an equal footing.” They do not wish Internet access providers to be able to block some services or cut special deals that prioritise some content over others. This means that providers should not be be able to sell higher speed connections to certain content compared to others, regardless of how the user is accessing the Internet (cable, fixed line, wireless or any other technology).
Net neutrality is an interesting topic and the differentiation between fixed line and wireless connection always struck me as broken given that this landscape has and is likely to continue to evolve very quickly. Four years ago, my home broadband speed was around twice as quick as the data connection speed I’d see on my smartphone. Since then, my home fixed line speed has almost doubled but my smartphone speed is about five times as quick. Neutrality supporters claim that telecom operators would seek to impose a tiered service on customers in order to control the pipeline, removing competition and effectively forcing customers to buy their in-house services. It would not sit well with me if my carrier effectively throttled access to, say, YouTube such that I could only watch low resolution videos unless I subscribed to a YouTube premium service, when I would then get higher speed access to the service. Opponents claim that discrimination of some kinds – usually to guarantee quality of service – is a desirable trait of an Internet connection. Of course, taking a decision between slowing down certain online services (such as peer to peer file sharing) in order to maintain an online streaming service is open to abuse.
Google’s stance on network neutrality remains confused. They’re still members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which opposes network neutrality rules. Furthermore, they’ve declined to comment on questions or calls to end their membership of the group. However, back in May they co-signed a letter to the FCC to preserve the open Internet and “protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization.” Perhaps Google wants a slice of both pies, or more likely we are missing parts of the story. What do you think? If your carrier started prioritising certain kinds of traffic in an attempt to encourage you to subscribe to one of their value-added services, would you vote with your feet? Should even Google become involved? Let us know in the usual channels, either the comments below or via our Google+ feed.