Evil Is As Evil Does

by on Aug.09, 2010, under general

James Grimmelmann on the Google/Verizon “deal” that has been alleged to oppose net neutrality, support net neutrality, or be totally ambivalent towards it.

Grimmelmann is totally correct in the main thrust of his post:

I would like to say, though, that this secretly negotiated private “deal” is a terrible, terrible blunder on Google’s part, considered purely from the perspective of its own self-interest. Google has enjoyed a generally good relationship with many activists and civil society groups who want to protect individual freedoms online. Even if what Google is now proposing is good policy, the backroom nature of the process sends an unmistakable message to Google’s erstwhile allies: we’re with you only as long as it’s convenient for us.

and other good stuff besides.

That said it bears noting that while Grimmelmann begins his post with:

The Verizon-Google Net neutrality deal is now public. In brief: neutrality for Plain Old Internet, transparency but not neutrality for wireless, and nothing for “Additional Online Services” unless they “threaten the availability” of POI.

it may actually be a bit more complicated than that, as the actual framework appears to leave quite a bit of wiggle room.

Non-Discrimination Requirement: In providing broadband Internet access service, a provider would be prohibited from engaging in undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content, application, or service in a manner that causes meaningful harm to competition or to users. Prioritization of Internet traffic would be presumed inconsistent with the non-discrimination standard, but the presumption could be rebutted.

Network Management: Broadband Internet access service providers are permitted to engage in reasonable network management. Reasonable network management includes any technically sound practice: to reduce or mitigate the effects of congestion on its network; to ensure network security or integrity; to address traffic that is unwanted by or harmful to users, the provider’s network, or the Internet; to ensure service quality to a subscriber; to provide services or capabilities consistent with a consumer’s choices; that is consistent with the technical requirements, standards, or best practices adopted by an independent, widely-recognized Internet community governance initiative or standard-setting organization; to prioritize general classes or types of Internet traffic, based on latency; or otherwise to manage the daily operation of its network.

Additional Online Services: A provider that offers a broadband Internet access service complying with the above principles could offer any other additional or differentiated services. Such other services would have to be distinguishable in scope and purpose from broadband Internet access service, but could make use of or access Internet content, applications or services and could include traffic prioritization.

I would never seek to second-guess Grimmelmann’s read of the law here, and if he thinks this is still a fundamental neutrality policy, I believe him. But though this framework isn’t quite a tiered Internet, it isn’t exactly a flat neutrality policy either, at least of the kind, say, Tim Wu would advocate.

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