Net Neutrality & Brands

Google + Verizon

In a move surprising to many, Google and Verizon have announced they are near a deal that will add a pay tier to Verizon’s Internet service. The service, which they have been planning for last 10 months, will give preferential bandwidth to paid content over the Verizon network.

What’s surprising is that the move is in conflict with a core tenant of the Internet; that network traffic, websites, email, videos, music, photos of your new baby, etc., is inherently neutral. Net neutrality, as it’s called, states that no single piece of data is more important than another.

There’s are many perspectives on net neutrality both for and against. The debates are extensive and come with variations of what a future will look like with and without it. But how they affect brands, their ability to innovate and their connection with their consumers is not as transparent.

The case against net neutrality rests with the providers of the infrastructure. Currently your Internet service provider receives monthly revenue from it’s customers looking to access the Internet. The goal is for them to create new channels of revenue by charging brands for access to a larger piece of their bandwidth pie. This will create more revenue that can be used for improving network speeds and business models built on-top of a tiered service plan for those willing to pay to be further up the queue of access. For these companies net neutrality is standing in the way of innovations in business.

In contrast, the case for net neutrality is focused on total network value. The value perspective focuses on the fact that networks become more valuable as the amount of information shared (transferred) increases. By adding barriers to the transfer of information the total value of the Internet suffers. For brands looking to create conversations with their customers, promote real interaction and ensure the data pipe is always open, this deal poses a challenge.

The success of this deal could lead to more and more deals of this kind. For an international brand this could evolve to be a cost requiring a new line item in annual budgets. Paying each Internet service provider around the globe to ensure their customers will always have access to their product, services, and content at reasonable speeds on a regional level.

A big player in the debate is the US FCC which has, by Congressional mandate, been tasks with creating a National Broadband plan to improve access to the Internet for everyone in the US. However the FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet was hindered by a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in April. (Though the FTC may be able to regulate the Internet instead.)

Personally, I see equal access to information as a core measure of social and economic success. Net neutrality plays an important role in ensuring this equality.

Here’s links to a couple sources:

Google & Verizon Near Deal on Web Pay Tiers

Wikipedia page: Net neutrality

FCC US National Broadband Plan

FCC and FTC involvement

Cyberlaw expert Lawrence Lessig on Net Neutrality (video)

NYTimes Op-Ed from a fellow Portlander

(who’s far more eloquent about the issue than I)

(This is from a post I wrote on the Wolff Olins blog)