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Google tries to save face after its Verizon deal

Rant Google is no longer your friend
Fri Aug 13 2010, 17:05

ADVERTISING BROKER Google has tried to defend its deal with Verizon by trying to quash "myths" about any effects it might have to diminish net neutrality.

Taking an aggressive stance on the issue, Google said that a "number of inaccuracies" have been reported about the deal it reached with Verizon earlier this week. It continued by saying that it wanted to "separate fact from fiction".

The deal itself has come under heavy fire, with wireless services being left out completely. Many have called the deal a sellout by Google, which previously was a staunch supporter of net neutrality. While the deal does propose to maintain net neutrality on 'wireline' services, including giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to deal with complaints and issue fines, it leaves wireless Internet access open for Internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile telecom companies to carve up as they please.

As to the charge of selling out, Google claims that, due to "no enforceable protections at the Federal Communications Commission or anywhere else", it chose to "partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together".

This is most charitably a misapprehension, and arguably it is a convenient lie. Under the previous US administration the FCC reclassified ISPs as 'information providers' instead of 'common carriers', over which the FCC does have strict regulatory authority. This FCC has already proposed to reverse that bad decision.

However, apparently Google's gentlemen's agreement between it and Verizon is something that Google hopes will convince other ISPs to follow this voluntary code of conduct. On the issue of wireless, the firm believes that as part of the "compromise" it made with Verizon, Congress should merely keep a "watchful eye".

However, given that Congress is all but controlled by monied corporate interests and takes nearly forever to legislate even severely flawed solutions to important social and economic problems, this is simply a prescription for the looming destruction of net neutrality.

If all that sounds a bit iffy, just wait until you hear Google's reasoning.

It said, "First, the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from. Second, because wireless networks employ airwaves, rather than wires, and share constrained capacity among many users, these carriers need to manage their networks more actively. Third, network and device openness is now beginning to take off as a significant business model in this space."

It's hard to know where to start. The notion that the wireless market in the US is competitive is complete dissembling. In the contiguous US there are only two CDMA wireless providers, Verizon and Sprint, and just two GSM providers, T-Mobile and AT&T. In any particular location it is perfectly likely that consumers have at most the choice of only one of each, which is really no choice at all.

As for Google's 'Layer 1' argument, it is laughable that, as more of the wireless spectrum becomes available to operators, this should be one of the reasons why the industry needs to clamp down on the free Internet with unregulated 'network management' powers.

Google also claims that its negotiations with Verizon are not simply because that company has been so successful in flogging handsets loaded with its operating system. This is something that could very well be true, as for Google, Verizon is much more than a phone flogger. The firm, which is part owned by Vodafone and controls one of the largest Tier 1 connectivity providers, MCI - which was known prior to its spectacular bankruptcy in 2002 as Worldcom - represents a significant player in Google's world.

Many fear that Google's deal with Verizon has set a precedent for other content providers and network operators to cut deals, ensuring that no one misses out. The notion that ISPs such as Verizon will start to package up quality of service prices, rules and restrictions and flog them to Big Media content providers and punters Google alluded to when it mentioned the following:

"Another aspect of the joint proposal would allow broadband providers to offer certain specialized services to customers, services which are not part of the Internet. So, for example, broadband providers could offer a special gaming channel, or a more secure banking service, or a home health monitoring capability - so long as such offerings are separate and apart from the public Internet."

So, according to Google, instead of using the public Internet, an infrastructure that has been around for decades and has had hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at it, much of it with government subsidies, ISPs will start to create networks for specific tasks.

A more secure banking channel? Why not invest in researching a replacement for SSL, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Pay for view cable TV like entertainment channels? Does the US really want to turn the Internet into cable TV? It'll be only a hundred channels and nothing on.

Judging by the comments on the blog and elsewhere, Google's deal with the devil and its subsequent vociferous defence only goes to show that it really has ditched its now infamous "don't be evil" policy. The repeated talk of compromise smacks of corporate posturing and backtracking on previously held principles.

The big question here is, if Google, a company that generally has been regarded as having more than the average level of corporate responsibility, has decided to renege on net neutrality, how long before more unscrupulous corporations do the same? And, will the US Congress and the FCC let them get away with it? µ


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