Google and Verizon announced a joint vision for the future of net neutrality this afternoon--a plan that may wield significant influence in the ever-intensifying debate over who controls the internet and its content. The plan calls for strictly regulated openness for today's wireline broadband--the DSL or cable internet you likely have at home. But for wireless networks (read: the future), the story is different.
For those that may be unaware of the issue, an exceedingly simplified fifteen-second net neutrality primer: The debate pits network providers (like Verizon) against companies and individuals who use said networks to deliver products and services to customers (like Google). As web applications become more central in nearly every aspect of public and private life, the network providers have grown increasingly interested in recouping the massive amounts of money they spend on building and maintaining network infrastructure by charging those companies who use an inordinate amount of bandwidth (like Google) for privileged access and delivery to customers. The internet has never worked this way, so the idea is obviously upsetting to many people, who cite the web's inherent openness as a key, if not the key detail that has allowed it to fundamentally change all of our lives in such a powerful way, and will allow it to continue to do so at the same breakneck pace in the future.
Google and Verizon's plan lays out specific rules to ensure that wireline internet services can not be used for any such tiered or paid access, and that all applications and services delivered over them (as long as they're legal) can be given no preference over any other traffic. That means established bandwidth hogs like YouTube and brand new bandwidth hogs built by Russian teenagers in their bedrooms like Chat Roulette will all get equal access to your eyeballs. This will also theoretically prevent broadband providers from intentionally limiting the speed of all BitTorrent traffic, something they've shown interest in doing in the past to avoid clogging their network with copyrighted materials; the protocol can just as easily be used legally.
But what has net neutrality activists worried--in my opinion, rightly so--is that in the new plan, almost none of these protections apply to wireless networks. Nor do they apply to a more ambiguously defined category of "additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV)" using current wireline networks.