Google and Verizon have decided on a compromise for net neutrality. Well, not really a compromise, since the plan was drafted in secret, and hardly anyone that it affects was involved, but you know. Compromise sounds better than secret business arrangement. It is not a business arrangement, don’t call it that! It’s just an arrangement between two businesses.
Anyway, it’s very depressing and bewildering to me. Obviously I understand what Verizon gets out the deal. Under this proposal there will be no network protections for wireless access of any kind, which unless you think the future of the internet is shoving the same amount of bits over telephone and cable lines, is probably the most important thing to give protection. As if that isn’t a big enough loophole, there will also be no protections for anything referred to as “additional services”, which is vague. The examples given have been, so far, a lot of bullshit. FiOS TV, healthcare monitoring, 3D (seriously!) have been thrown around. Guess what? Those all work with TCP/IP. What this amounts to is anything new won’t have protections. Anything you can think of that isn’t being done on the web now could be called an “additional service”, why not! Twitter is new right? or does it have to be something that is not in a browser to fool the misinformed that there is some magic happening there? Maybe Apple’s app store, or Amazon’s video rental system, or Roku boxes. Are those “new”? I mean they run over the “public internet” and TCP/IP just fine now, but imagine a fun new world where Verizon could argue these are new functionality and should be excluded from protections.
Google is fundamentally misleading people with this. TCP/IP is a dumb, generative network. They know this of course, the person that helped create it, Vint Cerf works there now. As Doc Searls and David Weinberger said in their essay, “Adding value to the Internet lowers its value”. The value of the internet is that it is a dumb network with all the value at the ends. You can, now, create an app store, or Twitter, or FiOS TV, or healthcare monitoring, without changing the network or involving the carriers. This allows for rapid innovation. Can you imagine if Twitter had to meet with every ISP in the world before rolling out? It might be similar to how it was for them to get SMS support, which is still spotty by country, and occupies a huge amount of time and effort.
There is no reason to pretend that we need to draw some imaginary line in the sand and say that everything over this line is some “new service” which net neutrality would inhibit. Quite the opposite, net neutrality allows rapid innovation. Changing how the internet works and having everyone get into business arrangements with ISPs will slow innovation. Of course, the idea that Verizon cares about innovation is also a ridiculous lie.
What I really don’t get though, is what is in this for Google? People say, Verizon is a huge carrier for Android, but Google doesn’t really make money on Android, and even if they did, why make such huge concessions in the wireless space? It’s not like Verizon has any serious leverage, are they going to stop selling Android phones, and watch everyone switch to AT&T? Google’s whole plan for Android isn’t to make money by most analysts estimation, it’s to commoditize the smart phone OS. That goal is achieved no matter what Verizon does. Android offers the only practical response to the iPhone that Verizon can also fuck up and brand however they want, I really don’t see them abandoning that. Apple will simply not allow any proprietary rebranding or labeling, and will likely just sit it out in US markets until Verizon concedes (and maybe also moves on to LTE while they wait). The only other option is Windows Phone 7, which Microsoft seems to be working with AT&T for, but even so that is a gamble, and Verizon just got burned pretty badly with the Kin. So, seriously, what is Google getting out of this?