Now that the hubbub from this debate has died down a little bit, we can get a sense of what’s really going on. The story, so far: Yesterday, the New York Times published a story saying that according to top-level sources, Google and Verizon are in advanced talks to hammer out an agreement in which Verizon pushes some content (presumably Google’s) to consumers faster, in exchange for money. That’s pretty much a textbook refutation of net neutrality.
Net neutrality, of course, is the idea that the Internet should be completely open and unrestricted. Opponents, which include some corporations and content providers, are against net neutrality, since there’s more money to be made in, for example, a tiered system in which some content (like streaming video, say) costs extra. The FCC is doing its damnedest to make net neutrality a law, but the courts don’t seem to like it much.
Google has been one of the fiercest proponents of net neutrality over the years, writing multiple blog posts defending an open and unrestricted Internet. So it was a shock when the New York Times published a piece saying Google is engaged in a complete about-face, now negotiating with an ISP to flout net neutrality.
Google’s response to the article:
The NYT is quite simply wrong. We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google or YouTube traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet.
The NYT article regarding conversations between Google and Verizon is mistaken. It fundamentally misunderstands our purpose. As we said in our earlier FCC filing, our goal is an Internet policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation. To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect.
Interestingly, other publications have published independent stories which offer different interpretations of the events, causing a lot of confusion. It’s very difficult to know who to trust, but there does seem to be a consensus that Google and Verizon are talking about net neutrality. But what about it? Bloomberg says the talks are to throw away net neutrality on mobile devices only.
The Wall Street Journal reported that while the majority of the talks are in accordance with FCC’s stance on net neutrality, “It would, however, allow phone and cable companies to offer faster, priority delivery of Internet traffic for companies that pay extra for the service.” That particular idea is not neutral at all, but it is mercilessly vague.
The New York Times told Gizmodo that it stands by the original story, and that Google’s response is actually a refutation of something that was never written in the first place.
So what’s actually going on? My hunch is that Google and Verizon are discussing net neutrality, which isn’t suspicious at all. Those are two of the biggest and most influential Internet companies in the world, and they’ve already got a strong relationship (see the proliferation of Android phones on Verizon Wireless). I don’t think Google has reversed its position on net neutrality, but it’s certainly possible that Google is relaxing just a little bit in its vehemence. Net neutrality is having a tough time in the courts, and Google may be trying to compromise.
Net neutrality is important for consumers, and it’s a fight worth fighting. I just hope Google is still on our side.