Google and Verizon's plan for wireless 'toll roads'

The companies' 'open Internet' proposal for wired broadband is a distraction from their bid for a non-neutral wireless Internet

Advocates of Net neutrality were driven into a tizzy last week by rumors that Verizon and Google were devising an accord that would allow Internet providers to prioritize select data traffic on a pay-to-play basis. Today, the companies announced a "proposal for an open Internet" that, at first blush, appears to preserve and protect a level Internet playing field.

A closer look, however, suggests the companies' vision applies only to maintaining the neutrality of the wired Internet while keeping the door open to building toll roads on wireless broadband.

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: Read Paul Venezia's classic analysis of Lawrence Lessig's speech on U.S. telecoms vs. their European counterparts. | Robert X. Cringely weighs in on the Google/Verizon flirtation. ]

Google and Verizon's proposal, released on Google's public policy blog this afternoon, hits most of the right notes when it comes to Net neutrality, even calling for legislation that increases the FCC's power to impose neutrality on telecom providers. But tucked away at the bottom of their list of proposals is this paragraph:

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.

Google and Verizon are well aware that wireless Internet connectivity is the future of networking and have been working to capitalize, what with Verizon's plethora of Android phones. Most wireless Internet plans already feature as a matter of course the usage caps that wireline providers never were able to consistently impose on customers. Excluding wireless from their proposal would keep open the opportunity for the Verizons, AT&Ts, and T-Mobiles of the world to continue with that practice.

Further, the exclusion of wireless from the open Internet proposal leaves open the option of pushing the sort of traffic shaping that Net neutrality advocates oppose -- but from which the large carriers (Verizon) and content providers (Google) profit.

Before this afternoon's announcement, InfoWorld's Paul Venezia proposed that the rumors might be a trial balloon of sorts, to see "what the townsfolk might think." But it may be more like a bait and switch; Google and Verizon figure we'll all be so relieved that Net neutrality is saved on wired broadband that we won't worry about the "still-nascent" wireless business.

Meanwhile, they can quietly lobby Congress to make traffic shaping the accepted, legal norm over wireless -- and most people won't even miss it. It's much harder to take something away from people than it is to deny them what they never had. Google and Verizon probably hope that this sea change in connectivity will raise less ire.

This story, "Google and Verizon's plan for wireless 'toll roads,'" was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on important tech news with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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