Earlier this week, information and telecommunications giants Google and Verizon were nice enough to work out a deal on Net Neutrality, outlined in a "joint policy proposal" for Congress. As we reported , one of the most controversial parts of the proposal is the suggestion that service providers should be permitted to engage in "reasonable network management."
In the past, providers like Comcast have gotten in trouble for slowing or prioritizing certain types of traffic. Open Internet advocates say such network management will lead to an Internet with multiple tiers of service that can be abused and would be a major blow to freedom of information. Verizon and Google say such measures are needed to deal with network congestion, ensuring network security, addressing traffic that is unwanted or harmful to users and ensuring service quality to subscribers.
For an expert take on the Google/Verizon proposal, we spoke to Susan Crawford , former special assistant to the President for science, technology, and innovation policy (2009). She now teaches at the Cardozo Law School and is a visiting researcher at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy.
DaniWeb: What was your first reaction to news of the Google Verizon Deal?
Crawford: The key takeaway from this deal is that it's going to serve as a catalyst for the Federal Communications Commission to get involved. We can't have large companies regulating themselves in such a crucial area for the American economy.
DaniWeb: Do you feel like the FCC has enough power to do that?
Crawford: Back in 2002, the commission decided to de-regulate high-speed Internet access completely and yet it said it was going to retain some power to tell these access providers what to do. Just a few months ago the DC Circuit (court) said that that step, of retaining power while at the same time giving it away, didn't make legal sense. So now the FCC's authority is in question. It can fix this by relabeling high speed internet access providers as telecommunications services. It's a bit of a long explanation, but the fact is that the FCC does have the power to act, to intervene and make good on the President's promises about net neutrality.
DaniWeb: So what would be some of the consequences if Google and Verizon's proposal were put in place?
Crawford: I don't fault these two companies for making a legislative proposal along these lines. They've been stuck in the net neutrality conversation for quite a while now, and they're looking for a way to have certainty in the way they do business. What this proposal does is give each side something very important that they want. For Google, it gives them some promises of non-discrimination on what they're calling the 'public Internet.' For Verizon, it gives them freedom to treat information going across their wireless services any way they want to. But from the public interest perspective, the proposal is troubling because it removes all authority from the FCC to make any rules about non-discrimination on what the companies are calling 'managed services,' which will look to us like, exactly like the Internet, but will provide them with a fast lane for prioritized services their partners provide.
DaniWeb: What would that mean for the future of business, start-ups and innovation?
Crawford: The concern is that this deal may be good for Google and good for Verizon, but not good for the next Google, for the next startup in some garage in Northern California that wants to be able to reach subscribers to high-speed internet access services with certainty. It's also not good for speech, because it gives the providers the power to discriminate in providing communications to Americans. We should be worrying about that as a country. Most essentially, Internet access is the key economic input in to our future and we should be sure to make certain that it's a highway that everyone can use with the same amount of freedom.
DaniWeb: What are the implications of this deal for your average Internet user?
Crawford: It's very important for average consumers that the Internet not become just like the cable network. Right now Americans are paying more and more for proprietary one-way channels that they buy from their cable service providers. The Internet is terrific for start-up businesses, new ways of speaking around the world and for average consumers, it's going to be important to keep it as open as possible.