So Google and Verizon have gone into a huddle and emerged with a statement on net neutrality. They say they’re committed to ensuring data flowing across the web is treated equally but want provision for new premium services where ISPs can charge more for the privilege. Does the future hold a two-tiered internet with a bog-standard public version and a souped-up private fast lane? And what should the UK do about it?
The vision put forward by Google and Verizon is of the current internet chugging along as is does now with a new set of premium services (including applications like healthcare monitoring, 3D video and gaming) running alongside it. The companies say: “This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services.”
In their proposal, Google and Verizon says that they want a situation with a “presumption against prioritization of internet traffic – including paid prioritisation”. That would mean that broadband providers wouldn’t block or degrade content and applications from rivals or favour their own content.
But by encouraging a two-tier internet with what Google calls the “public internet” and new premium services, we could quite easily see investment in the standard internet stagnate while providers focus on the faster lines. Providers wouldn’t need to actively discriminate against ordinary internet users, they could simply drag their heels when it comes to investing in improving general broadband speeds and coverage.
The principle of net neutrality isn’t as clear cut in the UK as Google presents it either. British ISPs already give priority to certain data. Some like Virgin Media admit to using traffic management but Ofcom says others are not so open about their policies.
Ofcom released a discussion paper in June on the issue of net neutrality. It raises concerns that ISPs could act to restrict content from their rivals. The regulator will reveal its conclusions next month and already has powers that could allow it to make ISPs more transparent about the way they treat data flowing through their networks.
While Google and Verizon may try to railroad regulators in the US into accepting their view of the internet future, the UK should take a stand and push back against a splitting the web in two. The best future for the web is one where the “public internet” remains simply the internet.
By allowing telecoms companies to split their focus and create a premium fast lane for data, it’s likely that sufficient bandwidth won’t be found for public networks. Big firms like Google and Verizon can never be neutrals in this kind of debate. If we don’t kick up a fuss about fair treatment of data, we’ll get even more barmy proposals like making the BBC pay for iPlayer traffic.
Let us know: Does net neutrality matter to you? And what do you make of Google’s alliance with Verizon?