Net Neutrality is a contentious political issue (click to enlarge) -- Google and Verizon think they have the answer.  (Source: Player Versus Player)

The proposal calls for taxpayer funding to help finance bringing broadband to rural areas of America where such service is current cost-prohibitive.  (Source: T&E Cable)
Pair air long awaited net neutrality proposal, leave much unanswered and ambiguous

As the American east was colonized and went from a frontier into a built-up economic giant, laws in the "New World" became increasingly regimented and defined.  Today, a similar scenario is playing out in the world of wired broadband internet.  The service has matured into a cornerstone of the modern economy, but only now is legislation catching up.

At stake is whether internet service providers should be allowed to charge websites/web content creators fees to determine traffic speed by offering faster connections.  Also at stake is whether ISPs should be allowed to purposefully slow traffic down.

Verizon and Google today rolled out a proposal that offers a prospective answer to those questions.  The proposal, which had been rumored since last week, is only two pages long and can be found here.

It calls for the legislation enforcing the premise of "net neutrality" -- banning the deliberate slowing down or speeding up traffic on wired connections.  Under the Google/Verizon plan, the Federal Communications Commission would gain the authority to punish offenders, fining them up to $2M USD for intentional violations (while a bit ambiguous, it sounds like these fines could be 
per occurrence, which would be bad news for throttlers like Comcast).

The proposal also redefines the frontier -- offering exemptions for wireless and new online services such as internet-connected television.  It makes it clear that strict rules must be in place to ensure that companies can't create creative renamings of traditional broadband offerings to try to skirt net neutrality rules.

This approach makes sense to an extent, but there's substantial ambiguity here.  The definition of legitimate "new" online services, versus illegitimate rebrandings is not clearly outlined.  Furthermore, there is some risk to this approach -- if wireless traffic is temporarily exempted from net neutrality as it develops, there's the risk that it will become a 
permanent exemption.

Also of interest, the proposal seeks to mandate that ISPs offer clearer information on their real-world connection stats to subscribers.  It also calls on the U.S. Government Accountability Office to publish yearly reports monitoring the state of broadband internet across the country.

The proposal also supports financing the Universal Service Fund (USF), a mechanism included in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which looks to expand telecommunication service to expensive groups -- such as individuals with disabilities, or individuals in rural areas.  Specifically, the proposal calls on the USF being used to deploy broadband to the remaining parts of America that it does not currently reach.

A remaining significant aspect of the proposal is its repeated use of the word "legal" with regard to traffic and content.  The intent is clear -- Verizon and Google are leaving room to discriminate against pirated traffic.  However, the bar would be raised somewhat in the sense that the onus would be on ISPs to prove that traffic was indeed illegal. 

The upside to filesharers is that many ISPs may opt simply not to regulate traffic.  However, the downside is that if they 
do opt to regulate traffic, they could in effect be removing the financial burden of tracking piracy from copyright watchdogs and taking it on themselves, fulfilling the long time goal of groups like the RIAA to either get ISPs or the government to pay for such tracking.

It's worth noting that there's still substantially ambiguity in virtually 
all of the proposal's suggestions, though, which may have helped Verizon and Google -- two companies with notably different past opinions on net neutrality -- reach common ground.

The proposal comes as the FCC crafts net neutrality legislation to present to Congress.  Along with its plan for national broadband, the new legislation will look to reshape the face of internet in America.  The trickiest part will be whether the FCC can put this somewhat vague two page proposal into a more comprehensive measure that will likely span 100 pages or more and lay out explicit rules.

Will Verizon and Google continue to agree when that kind of proposal hits?  And will other players like AT&T and Microsoft sit quietly by while Verizon and Google's attempts to steer the nation's internet policy?  Those are two critical questions, the answers to which remain to be seen.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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