The furor over “net neutrality” ratcheted up a notch when Google and Verizon reached agreement on how government and Internet companies might resolve conflicts over broadband services. Their nonbinding proposal was harshly criticized by organizations purporting to speak for consumers and media critics who prefer sterner, government-imposed solutions.
Net neutrality seeks to prevent phone and cable providers from favoring their services or discriminating against other users of wired and wireless networks, such as Internet phone calls and online video. Google had been a leading net-neutrality advocate, demanding the Federal Communications Commission force concessions on Internet service providers such as Verizon. But Google and Verizon announced Aug. 9 an agreement they hope resolves the dispute and can be a basis for compromise to avoid government regulations.
Even though the agreement conceded critical points, such as ISPs not slowing down, blocking or charging more for bandwidth-hogging services such as peer-to-peer file sharing, Google was accused of selling out. The proposal also would allow creation of what detractors derisively term a “private” Internet to deliver as-yet nonexistent educational services, gaming and other services. That effectively would create a two-tier system, one for publicly accessible Internet and one for new services.
We understand critics’ concerns. A “private,” wired network might become more profitable, drawing away services from the “public” system. We imagine ISPs could be tempted to spend more on research and development for the new, perhaps more profitable, private option. Critics also point out the Google-Verizon agreement exempts wireless networks from FCC restrictions. The companies jointly promote Google’s new Android software for smart phones.
Broadband’s future promises to be wireless, as cell phones, tablets and other devices deliver new mobility and speed. It’s conceivable some of the nearly ubiquitous, hardwired Internet access could migrate to higher-speed, more flexible wireless access.
Nevertheless, the argument against net neutrality is compelling. Wired Internet access grew phenomenally. Many competitors and technological advances flourished precisely because of the lack of government restrictions, however well-intended.
“What we’re concerned about is the imposition of too many rules up-front that would not allow us to optimize … the supercharged growth we’ve seen in the past,” Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg said.
A New York University School of Law study estimated an FCC net neutrality policy would cost the U.S. economy $62 billion and eliminate 502,000 jobs over five years. Costly, rigid regulations on service delivery and pricing would impede what otherwise promises to be mushrooming expansion. ISPs have spent billions developing their networks. They should be allowed to manage that traffic and not be discouraged from innovating to expand services.