Aug 9, 2010

Open Internet != Net Neutrality

Ok, in my time covering technology markets I've lived first-hand how vendors tend to use different terminology to talk about the same ideas. The goal is to make something sound unique enough and create a sort of smoke and mirrors effect when it comes to comparing features with the competition. The ideas and concepts essentially become a sort of branding. You can usually tell who's in which camp based on the terminology they use. For example, Microsoft uses the term "information Worker" and IBM uses the term "Knowledge Worker." They are essentially the same thing but with vendor specific twists.

It's the twists that count. The subtle nuances that support the understanding of how the technology/concept works. Of course that is the competitive advantage for the vendor. If they can define what something is, let's say "open" broadband service, in the minds of the customers then half the selling battle is done. Customers are expecting something based on their understanding of what that something is. Anyone selling something else is at a deficit, meaning that they have to educate customers as to why they want something else.

I've been going through the coverage of Google's and Verzion's "Open Internet" agreement today. To me this is clearly a play to tell the US market (and the FCC) in what we can expect from these two service providers by re-defining, -naming, and -branding "Net Neutrality" as "Open Internet." I find it disconcerting that it's just these two providers defining the new "net neutrality" and what the FCC will regulate. Letting two providers the size of Google and Verizon define how much openness and neutrality we can expect for broadband delivery will have a fox watching the hen house effect.

All of this, not surprisingly, comes on the heels of last week's abandoned efforts by the FCC to come up with an agreement on "Net Neutrality" rules. Usher in "Open Internet" that parses broadband into wireline and wireless network, and proposes rules for the public Internet. One can assume that there will be a private Internet to go with the public one, and that's what consumers and business have been fearing. According to today's Google's Public Policy Blog entry, the agreement with Verizon makes provisions for innovation and "other" networks:

Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV) offered today. This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services. It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options. Our proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules.

So how does this work now? Is this just an end-run around the FCC and this is what we get? At least we know how Google and Verizon see the broadband business in the US and what we can expect from them if the FCC doesn't come up with anything better.

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