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
"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
(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.