Network Neutrality: Google, Verizon, and Us

A few thoughts on the Google-Verizon talks and behind closed doors FCC stakeholder meetings with industry...

First, neither the FCC nor Google is likely to defend the interests of the vast majority of us and the communities in which we live. Companies like Verizon don't dump millions in lobbyists and lawyers on a lark - they do it because that level of spending gets them access and action. Google, its don't-be-evil mantra notwithstanding, remains a company that looks out for its interests first.

And Google's interests may well be ensuring that its content is always in the "fast lane" despite their historic approach of pushing for an open internet where no business can simply pay to get get a higher level of service from an ISP.

This is not an "abandon all hope" post about network neutrality. The FCC has substantially changed course on this issue many times (largely due to massive public pressure - thank you to Free Press for organizing so many folks), so I still have hopes that it will enact regulations to preserve the open internet.

However, these regulations are certainly not the best approach. It is a messy approach to solving a problem that fundamentally comes down to the fact that network owners operate essential infrastructure in the private interest rather than the public interest.

We don't have to worry that national bakeries are going to be prioritized over local bakeries in access to the roads they need to make their deliveries. UPS, FedEx, and the US Post Office do not have to engage in separate agreements in every community over who gets to use the roads and what speeds they can travel on them. When it comes to roads, the rules apply to all like vehicles equally (which is to say that all big trucks are treated like big trucks and passenger cars are treated like passenger cars).

If I lived in Chattanooga, Monticello, Lafayette, Brigham City, Bristol (TN or VA), Wilson, perhaps soon Opelika, or dozens of other communities with publicly owned broadband networks, I would be watching this ongoing network neutrality fight with a rather bemused expression because my network is democratically accountable to the community and that offers far greater accountability than anything that will come out of an FCC proceeding.

Update: A fascinating reminder from the Economist on the proper role for regulators:

If companies always agreed with regulators' rules, there would be no need for regulators. The very point of a regulator is to do things that companies don't like, out of concern for the welfare of the market or the consumer.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.