Google vs. Google On Wireless Net Neutrality

from the we-were-for-it-before-we-were-against-it dept

While I still think that uproar over Google and Verizon’s “deal” “agreement” “pinky shake” “policy framework” statement on net neutrality is quite exaggerated given that no one has accepted it and the framework is more or less meaningless, it is amusing to watch the reaction to all of this. Lots of folks who perhaps leaned too heavily on Google to push for a certain position are now screaming about Google’s move to the dark side. I don’t believe that either. Instead, this seems like a calculated business decision of the kind that Google was bound to make sooner or later, and one which might not mean anything.

On the flip side, Google is trying to defend itself against these attacks by pushing back on a few points. Unfortunately for Google, there’s a wonderful search engine called Google, which can be used to dig up things said by a company called Google in the past. Over at Broadband Reports, Karl Bode has noted some of the… changing sentiment of Google policy lawyer Richard Whitt. For example, in the latest blog post defending the Verizon agreement “framework” (sorry), Whitt explains why they think it’s okay, for now, not to apply any sort of neutrality rules to mobile networks. He first admits that they’ve pushed for openness safeguards in the past, but feel this is an acceptable compromise for a few reasons:

First, the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from. Second, because wireless networks employ airwaves, rather than wires, and share constrained capacity among many users, these carriers need to manage their networks more actively. Third, network and device openness is now beginning to take off as a significant business model in this space.

But… here’s the very same Richard Whitt in 2007 (pdf), making the argument that mobile providers were already abusing mobile networks and required more openness:

wireless providers block many common Internet applications and services outright, frequently do not allow network attachment of any device but their own, and reserve the right to terminate service arbitrarily for using other services that do not conform to a short and vaguely-defined list

As Bode notes, nothing has magically changed to make this competitive market any better. Instead, what’s changed is Google’s heavy investment in the mobile space:

So what changed? Google did. In 2007, Android wasn’t a major mobile OS, and Google didn’t have multi-billion-dollar wireless advertising relationships with Verizon and AT&T. You’ll also recall that Google had hopes of bypassing the carrier retail experience completely — hopes that flamed out rather spectacularly with the death of the Nexus One and their online phone store. The policy shift is clear and indisputable, as is the motivation: Google doesn’t want consumer protections (be they privacy, or network neutrality) to impact wireless ad revenues.

Again, none of this should be seen as a surprise, but just a reminder that, in the end, Google is going to do what it believes is best for Google. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s just that, in the past, Google tended to realize that what was best for consumers was also best for Google. Now… it doesn’t seem quite as sure of that. I think this is generally a mistake that Google may come to regret. Even if this agreement (damn) “policy framework,” really amounts to nothing much, this move is convincing many people that Google might no longer believe that supporting consumers is the best view, and that may lead to more backlash than the company realizes.

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Companies: google, verizon

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Comments on “Google vs. Google On Wireless Net Neutrality”

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37 Comments
Scote (profile) says:

“Whitt explains…:

First, the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from.

Right, because the number of providers makes the market soooo competitive when the industry standard is to lock consumers into two year contracts with punitive ETFs.

happymellon (profile) says:

Re: Scote

So you missed the whole Nexus One thing? Google arranged a set up with TMobile, so that you can buy a phone and service separate.

I understand that Tmobile doesn’t cover everywhere, but they do cover the vast majority of people. If more people actually stood up for their rights and took up deals like that, then you wouldn’t have this issue.

wilner says:

Finally Google is showing its NEW colors or is that TRUE colors?

. . . Perhaps it is time to admit to ourselves that Google only held positions that appeared to empower the consumer (i.e. the little guy or gal) in order to curry their favor and respect, and supposedly was NOT about the $$$$. All that talk about openness, net neutrality, Google’s philanthropic efforts, solar, etc blah blah was just to make consumers like Google and get them hooked/addicted on Google’s products and services. After all, the more people that are hooked, the more $$$ Google makes. But Google belied its own statements by maintaining super secrecy, by not revealing AdWords and AdSense revenues, by keeping its algorithms hidden, etc. Now only when they can’t increase more eyeballs and fingertips going to Google’s products does the company reveal its NEW self or TRUE self: money grubbing, market share obsessed, control freak disguised as a do-good company. Google’s recent buying spree to get into social gaming, airlines, etc. just shows that the almighty dollar is at work once again. I don’t understand why Sergey and Larry aren’t regretting that they and Google have already embraced the dark side.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Finally Google is showing its NEW colors or is that TRUE colors?

Yes, pointing out the stupidity of others is a human tradition older than recorded human history.

Just as prostitution is the oldest profession, pointing out the stupidity of those who frequented prostitutes is one of the oldest of human “other” activities. (*usually practiced by ‘unpopular’ prostitutes and hunters who rarely caught anything)

; P

David Muir (profile) says:

Re: Finally Google is showing its NEW colors or is that TRUE colors?

It is amusing to read about the laying out of a vast and well-thought out conspiracy like this. The reality is that Google was founded and is now being run by people. Equate a company to the people behind it. People can change their minds. Beloved people can screw-up and annoy you. Trusted people can betray you. More importantly, the actual people pulling the strings behind a company can change. It is not a case of the corporate entity meticulously planning out a way to do this from the very beginning, carefully luring us all in with the intention of burning us.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Everything this blog has ever said to the recording industry has been advice, advice, advice on what Mike (and a lot of others) think IS the best approach.

Hey, maybe they are wrong — maybe the record labels will find a way to turn this mish-mash of artificial scarcity and expensive litigation into a sustainable business model — but I’ve yet to see any particularly convincing arguments for that.

Rich says:

It's a Schick already.

I think the reason that so many people feel betrayed, is that ever since Al Gore’s internet invention, it’s been besieged by governmental attempts to regulate, monitor, seize and ultimately, hand over to special interests. Not to mention the classic caste fear of culture, without controls.

Google was the perceived to be the only company left, that vowed to stand for “what’s right” and they feel betrayed.

Frankly, those people just weren’t paying attention.

Google’s CEO said, just over a week ago:
“true transparency and no anonymity is the way forward for the internet – In a world of asynchronous threats it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”

Come on guys, Google’s “do no evil” is a Schick. You have to dupe lots of people into believing you can be trusted with all sorts of data. That’s why this move was really not too bright. They should have just kept it in the shadows like the devils deals of the past.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Hey Mike,
I agree that it’s pretty amusing to watch all the reactions to this, and everyone claiming that Google has finally gone “Evil”, but aren’t they all forgetting that Verizon played a part in this ‘policy framework’ proposal as well? We never saw a proposal from only Google, nor one from only Verizon, so how can we jump to the conclusion that this is exactly what Google wants, instead of thinking that this is a compromise between the two? Verizon has a history of walking all over customers, and if I had to bet money, I’d say they’re more against net neutrality than they are for it. Perhaps Google came to the table fighting on all kinds of things that Verizon wanted, and this was the compromise that Google felt comfortable enough with to associate itself with. If you’ve read their blog post about it, as I’m sure you have, they mention at the end that it’s simply a proposal and they call for the real policy makers – AND the American Public – to voice their concerns and preferences to Congress. When was the last time a corporation was willing to share their views on a specific policy so openly?? Does the government even know the meaning of the word ‘transparent’? (You’ve shown me plenty of examples that they don’t…) When was the last time you got a really good idea of what was in a bill going through congress before they voted on it?? (the ______ act of ______ ?? what’s that about again?)

I don’t want to sound too much like a Google shill, as I am still a little bit skeptical, but the mere fact that Google published the proposal for everyone to read and criticize makes me think they aren’t getting everything they want out of it either, and are hoping the public will get up in arms about it. If we let Verizon and Congress talk this out themselves, I’m all but certain that we’d never have seen anything substantial about the regulations until it was too late to do anything, and they’d have been much more in favor of the ISP’s than this one is.

My theory is that Google knows exactly what it’s doing, and that is preventing any ISP from buying regulations that favor them (business as usual…). To explain the lawyer speak….I can’t imagine Verizon would let Google get away with a response like “Well, we didn’t like this, but had to leave it in there or there was no way Verizon would have agreed to it.”

All the advertising deals in the world are useless if no one trusts your company enough to visit those sites, or click those ads, or use that brand, and Google knows this, probably better than anyone in history. Couldn’t it be that they’re just trying to expose the evil of everyone else involved?? In order to stop something bad from happening, they have to let people know it’s happening right? What do you think about that?

Jeremy says:

Re:

Absolutely.

Most of the commentary on this proposal seems to focus on how Google hasn’t matched the high ideals of the critics. Very little of the commentary seems to note that actual forward progress has been made toward net neutrality in the wired space with one of the largest carriers in the US voicing support. That alone is almost enough to move the industry because that means there is always a credible ‘net neutral’ carrier for the consumer.

In the wireless space the way is deliberately left open for later legislation to follow the wired precedent- which will be all the more likely if net neutrality proves to be a ‘successful’ policy.

The trouble with high ideals is that they say nothing about how to actually get from here to there. The Google/Verizon proposal is a step forward and offers a way to break the current FCC deadlock. And, yes, it turns out that real world progress in politics involves some degree of compromise.

Importantly, however, this proposal still permits a close to ideal outcome in the long term. If no progress is made soon then we risk the worst of all worlds (no legislation, no open carriers and an un-virtuous circle of control and more control).

I would love to see strong Net Neutrality laws in place but there have already been 5 abortive attempts to pass this regulation. Honestly, just go and read the wikipedia article on U.S. Net Neutrality and tell me how to get from the current gridlock to strong net neutrality laws. Now look at the Google/Verizon proposal again. It looks to me like progress at a time when the fight for Net Neutrality is looking particularly dark.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s a change, though I can’t call it a good one nor do I think it likely to break the logjam. I could be surprised.

The reality is that Google is now defending it’s position in wireless as a compromise while laying out what it sees and the reasons why. The problem is that while doing this they’re being rather disingenuous about it saying that what they want is to allow for new serves and applications in wireless space without cannibalizing “open Internet” (whatever that is) space. The problem there is that these services currently exist on the Internet and don’t seem to be causing much of a bandwidth fuss.

And, in spite of, or maybe because of, Google’s agreement with this arrangement wireless will remain forever a private playground no matter what Google says.

What it does is create an open/public/something Internet for wireline and a collection of private Internets for wireless. In fact, I’d go a step further and say it creates a series of permanent private networks whose only relationship with the Internet is that it’s carried over TCP/IP. Likely with carrier/vendor lockin. And the giggle that Congress may step in in the future to address “consumer” complaints of abuse.

IF you buy that it’s a good idea. If you find that frightening or a roll back in time to such things as Compu$pend and other private networks it should scare you to death.

Me? I’m scared to death that this has the distinct possibility of killing/fracturing the goose that lays the golden eggs not about net neutrality should something like this go ahead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Very little of the commentary seems to note that actual forward progress has been made toward net neutrality in the wired space with one of the largest carriers in the US voicing support.

You fail to mention that that carrier has basically given up on it’s wired network and has decided to concentrate on wireless instead. So it’s little surprise they would readily accept wired neutrality in exchange for wireless non-neutrality. That’s not progress at all.

out_of_the_blue says:

Corporations don't exist for their sake, but for public benefit.

“Google is going to do what it believes is best for Google. There’s nothing wrong with that” — No, like copyright, the original purpose has been forgotten. — Well, the date of “orignal” matters, but corporations in the modern sense are a means for The Rich to avoid personal liability and risk only losing money, “limited liability”. — But in the “good” period, corporations served to pool money to build industry. Then the ability of corporations to commit crimes with impunity began to be favored, their purpose was redefined by *statute* to be “return maximum profits to stockholders” rather than serve the “common wealth” of communities and nation, and we are now moving to outright fascism.

Google is like all other corporations: amoral and immortal. We’d better keep *limits* on such entities. — One way that I propose is for charters to absolutely expire after a quarter century, all the corporation sold off, to keep economic ferment going rather entrenched monopolies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Public Corporations and Capitalism

This reminds me of a story a guy told me back in the 1990’s of a company he worked for. One of the interview questions they would ask prospective employees involved a hypothetical situation: “Suppose you had a button on your desk that would make $10 profit for the company every time you pushed it. However, every time you pushed it a poor farmer in a third world country would be killed as a result. Further suppose that there would be no negative consequences for yourself or the company if you pushed it, only profits. Would you push it?”

Those who answered “no” were eliminated from further consideration for employment. But hey, that’s just the nature of public corporations maximizing profits in a capitalist system. Nothing wrong with that, huh?

mike rice (profile) says:

'net neutrality'

Though its true that Google made its faustian bargain with the evil Verizon Network, and that it was done so that Google could succeed in the closed cellular world of carrier control,
and that the bargain has implications for net people as well as phone folks, it is not the biggest issue. The big question is who is going to control the major bandwidth of the future: Cell phones or the internet? For the last few years I thought the cell phone carriers were gaining ground. A hotel manager who uses a jail broken generation 3 Iphone to make free phone calls on open wifi networks everywhere, epitomizes the differences and the struggle between giants from both these two worlds, for primacy. For a long time I feared the more parochial cell phone giants wanted control of the Internet. I not longer believe that to be true. I also believe that whatever inroads increasing cell phone access makes in the internet world, those inroads will not change the essential underlying democracy of the Internet world.

Techrider says:

Re: 'net neutrality'

This is an insightful entry, Mike. But I was hoping you could expound on how your example of the hotel manager provides insight into why you no longer believe that “parochial cell phone giants want[ed] control of the Internet.” In fact, wouldn’t your example cut the other way and are these illegally gotten services enough to make the cell carriers give up? I’m a little skeptical that they’ve thrown in the towel, which is the main point of my reply in this thread, yet I realize you only provided this one example for the purposes of illustrating how easy it is for consumers to work around the gates that the gatekeepers set up. Since people can easily obtain unlocked phones (on Ebay even) that can access wifi networks and work around the incumbent wireless network, wouldn’t I, the wireless carrier (who by the way happened to help subsidize the mass production of these units, heavily discounted them to consumers, and made up for those investments or upfront-losses, depending on how you look at it, by locking customers into 2-year aggrements) want to plug these holes by opposing net neutrality in the wireless space and by assive production runs of these units buyer could purchase it at a discount, from accessing some Internet pages and executing cloud apps without enabling me to charge the hotel manager for a mobile data plan on my network? Or are you saying that the cell phone carriers

tristan (user link) says:

You know everyone is painting an evil picture on Google when most of us don’t understand whats really going on. All Google is saying is that the internet is young and that the government should not place any restrictions on it as of yet.

Google truly does no evil. Or do they? There is this one article I read at http://tech-senses.com/ called called “How doing Business With Google Almost Killed A Company”. That is probably the most evil thing Google has ever done.

Rafael (user link) says:

Scarcity

Mobile operators are arguing that mobile networks suffer from extreme scarcity and thus they are different. But, how can they argue that their networks are so scarce and they are selling “unlimmted” data plans. I do not think it is proper toi ask for a pass on net neutrality because networks use a scarce resource while you have advertising selling unlimited data plans. If something is scarce you deal with it by constrainning its access by simply increasing prices.

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