When you see someone tries to fix something that is not broken you can conclude that either he is crazy or there is more to it than meets the eye.
The ongoing debate about net neutrality gained fierce momentum with Google and Verizon reportedly (I first read it in NY Times) agreeing in principle about ending the internet as we know now. If true, that would be the end of "Open Internet" as we see it today.
Google and Verizon came up with a two-page policy document. The full text is available here. Whilst a cursory read would seem that their intention is harmless, read between the lines:
Here is "Five sentences from the Google/Verizon proposal that could change the net forever" - Matt Schafer's Blog:
1. “Prioritization of Internet traffic would be presumed inconsistent with the non-discrimination standard, but the presumption could be rebutted.”
Interpretation: Favoring some traffic over other traffic is not okay, but an ISP could do it anyway if they have a good argument for it.
2. “Broadband Internet access service providers are permitted to engage in reasonable network management… (and) to prioritize general classes or types of Internet traffic.”
Interpretation: ISPs can throttle/prioritize traffic in whatever way they feel is necessary for the sake of the network.
3. “Because of the unique technical and operational characteristics of wireless networks, and the competitive and still-developing nature of wireless broadband services, only the transparency principle would apply to wireless broadband at this time.”
Interpretation: Since wireless Internet is “different” from wired Internet, net neutrality is not applicable to wireless Internet.
4. “The FCC would enforce the consumer protection and nondiscrimination requirements through case-by-case adjudication, but would have no rulemaking authority with respect to those provisions.”
Interpretation: The FCC has no authority to make rules to keep the Internet a level playing field for everyone.
5. “The FCC would have exclusive authority to oversee broadband Internet access service, but would not have any authority over Internet software applications, content or services.”
Interpretation: The FCC has no power to regulate ISPs at any level, but it can “oversee” ISPs and punish them after the fact with $2 million dollar fine.
Because we are so used to open Internet all along, it is really hard to imagine it being closed. So What does it mean?
It means that till now, Internet was a freeway with no tolls. It will now have two lanes. One fast lane and one slow lane. The fast lane would only be affordable to those who are willing to pay and the majority of smaller players would have to content with the slower lane.
Whilst debate is going on amongst consumer class expressing concern over discrimination which was hitherto unimaginable, the real danger lies somewhere else: It hinders entrepreneurship on the Internet.
We, as users, may not be required to pay in the short run - but in the long run they can charge us. But it will definitely affect those internet businesses who are not willing to pay their ISP for "faster" delivery of content to consumer.
Imagine you happened to invent an amazing algorithm for search. Far superior to Goole's algorithm and your search results are stunningly more relevant and accurate than that of Google. And, you are operating out of your garage and dreams about taking on Google - just the same way Sergey and Larry took on Yahoo! when they started Google.
Here comes the punch! Google pays a billion dollars to ISPs to deliver their search results faster and your search results, though really good, comes excruciatingly slow because you cant afford to pay as much as Google.
The winner here is Google and the losers are many. main loser is the consumer. We are denied good technology because the inventor is discriminated by the ISP based on how much he can pay.
Well, I know this is a bad example because if you happen to stumble upon an algorithm like that, you will have the backing of at least one big VC - and money will not be a problem. But what if you don't want to dilute your equity and decide go go without a VC?
Extend the impact to other businesses: Bloggers, Online tutors, Tradesmen who advertise on the internet and a whole heap of people who make a living out of it and aspires to make it big one day. What happens to them? Those who can afford to pay will survive and those who can't will perish.
Imagine this happened in the '90s when Google was still in the garage. Yahoo! might have shut Google out and Google would never have born. You would not be using gmail, google earth or google maps. Or Amazon - Barnes & Nobles would have shut them out.
So, What is really happening?
What is happening right now is that the little guys are able to take on established, big, brick and mortar businesses with their intelligence and innovation alone. Internet is the only platform where the small guy can even dream of taking on the big guys. And big businesses don't like it. They want to block the way for ever and would like to be in a position of power.
Google is getting fat and doesn't like idea of sharing eyeball revenue with anyone. Well, it is happening. With more potential competition out there in garages, big companies don't like the idea of their share of the pie getting smaller and smaller. Facebook's ad revenue projections for next year is a billion dollars. Where does this come from? I bet half of it would have been Google's if Facebook didn't exist.
All the innovations so far on the internet was possible because the platform was same for you, me or Microsoft. For the first time in the history of the world, something was out there which was truly democratic. And like all good things, it wont last.
Luckily (or is it?), Google and Verizon reportedly agree (or so it would seem) that the wired internet would be spared from the discrimination. And that discrimination would only between different types of data - for example - video, audio and data. That means, wireless internet is open for discrimination. Why is that?
I can't pinpoint what exactly it is. It is a hunch: it has something to do with Android. Android is outpacing all other platforms - Apple's iOS or Nokia's Symbian.
I think wireless internet is the future. No, I am sure now. Why else would the big corporations are salivating on it - leaving room for interpretations? Why else would Google and Verizon fix something that is not broken?