James Butler's Blog

G and V and Thee

August 09, 2010 10:13

In a move that brought my eyebrows up, Google and Verizon today released the details of what they had been meeting about behind closed doors. Here's a link to Google's Public Policy blog entry containing an overview and a link to the Verizon-Google Legislative Framework Proposal that was the result of their meetings.

Their Framework will be pilloried, and praised. I am here to praise it, mostly. I'm excited that they have published these suggestions, and I very much look forward to reading all of the discussions about it that are sure to follow. 

I like it! Here's why ... using Google's blog bullet points and my emphases:

First, both companies have long been proponents of the FCC’s current wireline broadband openness principles, which ensure that consumers have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose. The enforceability of those principles was called into serious question by the recent Comcast court decision. Our proposal would now make those principles fully enforceable at the FCC.

For the most part, this is true. Both Verizon and Google have done more than the average for the Internet community at large. They both make obscene amounts of money, but they contribute back in some measure, too.

Note the first paragraph refers to "wireline" and not "wireless". Also note the swipe at Comcast. Tsk tsk.

Oh well, we already know they're rude.

It is critical to the continued growth of the Internet that the basic principals of Internet Neutrality continue to dominate. The bandwidth MUST remain available to all without discrimination. By this I mean that any publisher of content must remain able to publish at will, without restrictions of capacity or cost demanded by the companies that maintain the infrastructure that the digital information uses to get from its server to those who request it. The first part of the Google/Verizon Framework proposal and past actions illustrate the continuing commitment from both companies to adhere to the principals of Internet Neutrality by officially establishing an enforcement agency. Not totally thrilled that it's the FCC, but I can't think of another body with its fingers in all the right places.

Second, we agree that in addition to these existing principles there should be a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices. This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition.

Excellent! Codify what it means to interrupt Internet Neutrality, and give it some teeth. This is their kick back at Comcast for winning the bandwidth throttling case, not long ago. They're telling Comcast that they don't agree with the courts in pretty strong terms. It will be interesting to see if this proposed Framework gets any traction in Congress.

Third, it’s important that the consumer be fully informed about their Internet experiences. Our proposal would create enforceable transparency rules, for both wireline and wireless services. Broadband providers would be required to give consumers clear, understandable information about the services they offer and their capabilities. Broadband providers would also provide to application and content providers information about network management practices and any other information they need to ensure that they can reach consumers.

More protection for publishers is always a good thing, and transparency is strong protection.

Fourth, because of the confusion about the FCC’s authority following the Comcast court decision, our proposal spells out the FCC’s role and authority in the broadband space. In addition to creating enforceable consumer protection and nondiscrimination standards that go beyond the FCC’s preexisting consumer safeguards, the proposal also provides for a new enforcement mechanism for the FCC to use. Specifically, the FCC would enforce these openness policies on a case-by-case basis, using a complaint-driven process. The FCC could move swiftly to stop a practice that violates these safeguards, and it could impose a penalty of up to $2 million on bad actors.

Could do without this one ... more Comcast-slapping. A penalty of $2M is a pittance to the big "actors". Google, for one example, could come up with that amount in a couple of minutes. However a smaller company would be hit pretty hard by that amount. It's kind of stacking the deck in favor of the big players ... those that can afford to break the rules.

I might support something like this if damage caps were lifted, if they took into account complainants from around the globe, and if the penalties were tied to the net worth of the company doing the violating. So for a mom-and-pop outfit generating $2M from their evilness, the business-killing penalties might be around $3M, worldwide. For a company Google's size, worldwide the damages might rack up to somewhere closer to $3Billion. Something that they would notice.

I guess a line does need to be drawn, and this isn't a bad start. The damage caps, though ... soyonara.

Fifth, we want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV) offered today. This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services. It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options. Our proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules. The FCC would also monitor the development of these services to make sure they don’t interfere with the continued development of Internet access services.

This one's going to be blogged about quite a bit. But not for the right reasons.

This section contains their thoughts about accomodating future infrastructures and future heavy uses of the infrastructure. If a new technology uses new protocols, or when the protocols themselves are not new, but the use of them is new and seriously "bandwidth greedy," broadband providers can work with the developers of those protocols or useage profile to establish the rules of the road for using them while maintaining equality for users of the infrastructure who are not using the new protocols. You and I can still do all we do now, and more, even if new remote healthcare services are introduced into the pipeline and threaten to consume large quantities of bandwidth.

This is a good thing. New services can co-exist in the pipeline with Internet traffic. Does anyone seriously think that the introduction of new, bandwidth-heavy services should not be managed? For the foreseeable future? Nobody who is serious thinks that way.

To be sure, this section gives providers like Verizon (and probably Google, at some point) the ability to negotiate different rate structures for the new technologies, and it must be closely examined and any legislation written so the structure is protected from future abuses. Definitely crystal ball time.

Sixth, we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

This is gonna be a sticky wicket with the blogosphere, too. That's because it's a really cloudy area, not well-defined, and emerging. Wireless IS different from wireline. And it should be addressed separately as far as discussions about the nature and use of the pipes goes.

Seventh, and finally, we strongly believe that it is in the national interest for all Americans to have broadband access to the Internet. Therefore, we support reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund, so that it is focused on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available. 

Swipe! I do agree, though, that reform needs to be instituted (already!) in the halls of the FUSF. More money needs to to go toward rolling out access to less-privileged areas. The infrastructure where you and I live is supported by our subscription dollars, and the providers are happy to move into our areas because of them. But areas that can't generate the subscription dollars ours can are supported in part by some of our subscription fees, and more of those dollars need to go toward rolling out services, and less to payroll.

Overall, I like this Framework as a jumping-off point for more discussion. Two of the industry's heavyweights have gotten the ball rolling, now it is incumbent on all of us stakeholders; users, legislators and providers alike, to institute some thoughful protections. We've been lucky, so far, and it is past time to get the Framework in place to substantiate our safety net.



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