Google, Verizon, and the future of the Internet

Last week, Google and Verizon denied they were negotiating a deal that could undermine Net neutrality. Here's what might really be going on

The first thing that sprang to mind when I read about Google and Verizon getting all buddy-buddy in their negotiations to provide "premium" Internet services based on content was the old saw about selling the Brooklyn Bridge. If the initial New York Times story got it right (though both Verizon and Google deny it), then that's exactly what's happening: They're selling out the Internet, an entity that neither company owns.

Much has been written about Net neutrality, with the big ISPs claiming that legislation enforcing the current status quo would stifle innovation and create undue hardship for the poor suffering carriers. On the other side are reality and those pesky little things called facts.

[ Also on 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. ]

One of the most significant facts is that the big ISPs got where they are in large part due to taxpayer dollars. The government has handed out billions to the carriers over the years for network improvements and to jump-start broadband Internet access in rural areas. The carriers have been there with their wheelbarrows to catch all that money -- and then they turn around and decide they need to fleece us all over again under the guise of preferred content. (Meanwhile, their long march to bring broadband to rural areas has been very, very slow.)

So Google, the don't-be-evil company, and Verizon, a company whose claim to virtue seems less plausible, are clearly up to something. We just don't know what it is yet. Here are some possibilities:

1. Google and Verizon are close to an unpleasant deal

Google and Verizon are certainly in bed together in the mobile arena, so it stands to reason that they're getting closer in other areas as well. If the reports are true, then Google is busy violating its motto and trying to make the first move to turn the Internet into cable TV. Google may be doing this because it views the recent rulings on the FCC's oversight of the Internet as the first water over the dam and is positioning itself to benefit from the ensuing evisceration of the Internet. Or, who knows, Google may be playing the key role in this situation by building the path over which the rest of the carriers and content providers will trample in an attempt to hose the consumer.

2. Google and Verizon are definitely in talks, but it's not quite what you think

Perhaps Google's angle is to work with Verizon to allow for artificial constraints in mobile data, not broadband data. In this case, they may think that they're saving the broadband world from the ravages of tiered services by acquiescing on the mobile front -- an area that is apparently in disarray, thanks to the dismal networks constructed by the U.S. wireless companies. They're offering to amputate a leg, say, in exchange for keeping the damage at bay. While it may seem like a noble undertaking, it still establishes a dangerous precedent.

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