This week’s big event was of course the Google/Verizon network neutrality proposal, which took heavy fire from the network neutrality camp – some seeing Google’s action as a betrayal. Was it? Well that depends on what one wants from the whole argument: victory, policy, or the argument itself. Yes, there are those who would prefer (consciously or unconsciously) to leave network neutrality as a battlefield indefinitely, as it provides a useful us-versus-them division with easy access to the press. In a very real sense, Google did turn its back on that group by attempting any sort of compromise at all.
They did not do so out of altruism though, they simply realized that as a corporation they want and need resolution and an eventual end to the uncertainty. An endless game of tug-of-war may be great politics and drama, but it’s not good business. And it is the politics and drama that have me so jaded on the subject of network neutrality right now. It’s great fodder for bloggers and talking heads, many of whom privately don’t care at all either way so long as they can keep writing about it. The whole debate lately has been as useless as watching CNN’s Crossfire or any such show – opinion salvos are launched without any conversation at all and both sides prefer it that way.
Does that mean a compromise would be good for consumers as well? Well, perhaps not this one since it chickens out of the big questions in wireless. But, with all the holes people are shooting in it, it certainly isn’t going to be the one that floats in the end anyway. And since the FCC is still mostly worried about its own legal basis for doing stuff, and Congress couldn’t get anything done even if it *wasn’t* an election year, the possibility of any actual regulation or legislation in the near future seems remote at best.
So since nothing is going to happen anyway, all that Google has done is shake things up and start the conversation anew. At least now we can be free of the illusion that there are just two sides to this – the evil telcos and everyone else. Google’s interests may not align with the telcos, but they may also not align with consumers – they exist to make money just like any other corporation – and this is true across all content makers. Perhaps the mixture will settle into a less dysfunctional shape this time.
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