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Net Neutrality? What Net Neutrality?

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August 17, 2010

Net Neutrality? What Net Neutrality?

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

It probably won’t be a great surprise to anyone, but it appears that Google and Verizon (News - Alert), in their recent statement proclaiming wireless to be “different” from wireline networks (in other words, yay-rah-rah for net neutrality when it comes to wireline, but when it comes to wireless, consumers will take what we give them and like it), it’s no surprise that AT&T (News - Alert) is one of the first in the audience to stand and cheer.

Stated Joan Marsh, AT&T’s Vice President for regulatory issues, "We've been making this point for several months now, but we can't emphasize it enough: wireless is simply different," Marsh said.

On AT&T’s public policy blog, Marsh essentially stated that consumers don’t understand the issues well enough, and expecting unrestricted access to wireless is a fantasy. “There is much misinformation out there about this issue, as well as a genuine lack of understanding about the limits technology and physics impose on wireless networks.”

She’s probably right about that. Consumers have a way of thinking that “the Internet” is some sort of democratic, Utopian entity that is owned by no one and works effortlessly on its own, in the same way we expect the sun to come up every morning with no problems and no work on anyone’s part.

She goes on to describe exploding wireless traffic and its astronomical growth rates (one can’t argue with that, either), and shifts some of the responsibility elsewhere. “Policymakers can help by reallocating more spectrum for CMRS use and, even more importantly, by protecting wireless broadband networks from onerous new net neutrality regulations.” In other words, “give us more space,” a demand with a dual meaning: literally, when it comes to the allocation of spectrum, something controlled by governments; and figuratively, meaning, “hands-off you interfering, legislative weasels.”

The capitulation of AT&T and Verizon, after once paying lip service to net neutrality, is not really a surprise. Google’s stance, on the other hand, has a lot of netizens reeling. Once upon a time, Google didn’t really have a viable pony (or a dog) in the wireless dog and pony show and was a strong advocate for unconditional net neutrality. Of course, with the introduction (and rapid success) of Google’s Android (News - Alert) wireless platform, the company is now offering some stiff competition in the phone marketplace. Sales of phones working on the Android platform have already surpassed the sales of iPhones earlier this summer, according to Gartner (News - Alert), and Android phones are even poised to surpass RIM’s Blackberry by the end of the year.

So who do supporters of strong net neutrality still have in their court? For the present, Facebook (News - Alert). At least until such time we discover they’re planning on launching the “FaceFone” in 2012.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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