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Verizon challenge reignites net neutrality debate

Tony Bradley | Sept. 13, 2013
Verizon is challenging FCC net neutrality rules in a court case that could determine how Internet providers manage and deliver service.

Case in point: at the same time Verizon, Comcast, and others were engaging the FCC to fight over net neutrality and claim that FCC oversight hampers innovation and investment, Google stepped in and invested in Google Fiber—delivering significantly faster broadband speeds at a fraction of the cost of competing broadband providers.

A matter of perspective
Google was initially a staunch supporter of the FCC and the noble pursuit of net neutrality. Now that Google is also an Internet provider—operating its pilot Google Fiber networks in a handful of cities across the United States—it seems to have a different point of view.

Google has been a champion of unrestricted Internet service—basically favoring the idea that the ISP simply provides the pipe and has no jurisdiction to control the content that flows through the pipe, or discriminate against certain types of traffic by throttling the speed at which it flows through the pipe. That is, unless you try to run a server on a Google Fiber network. Then all net neutrality bets are off, and Google reserves the right to shut you down.

In Google's defense, it seems reasonable to draw a line between the core concept of net neutrality and the difference between consumer and business class Internet services as defined in the terms of service. Google isn't suggesting that traffic to Google be given priority and traffic to Bing be throttled, and Google isn't trying to block access to Apple or Microsoft sites on its networks.

On the other hand, it can get very sticky very quickly when you start trying to determine what qualifies as a "server." The Google ToS clearly bans "any type of server," but there is a significant difference between setting up an Exchange Server and reselling email hosting services from your home broadband connection and setting up a Minecraft server to play a game with some friends. The challenge is finding language for the ToS that can differentiate between the two.

It all comes down to money
It's really about the ability of providers such as Verizon to play both ends against the middle and make money from both sides.

The FCC net neutrality guidelines prohibit Verizon (and other broadband providers) from selectively throttling or blocking Web traffic. That means that Verizon has to treat all traffic equally, and can't—for example—block traffic from Netflix if Netflix refuses to pay a toll or give prioritized traffic to HBO because it gives more money to Verizon.

Verizon's attorney, Helgi Walker argued in court, "But for these rules, we could be pursuing those types of commercial arrangements," adding, "My client wants freedom to explore that."

The problem is that the broadband provider is already being compensated for the pipe from the customer. The content provided, and the speed at which it's delivered, shouldn't then also hinge on how much the broadband provider can extort from the sites and services themselves.


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