The troubling thing about the wireless element of Google's joint proposal with Verizon is its vagueness.
Google is in business to make money. Anyone assuming that it would forgo revenue in order to live up to a tag line ("Don't be Evil") hasn't paid much attention to the history of American business or the fecklessness of corporate marketing -- or to all the energetic wireless duck-lining-up the company has been doing for the past few years.
Of course, some companies do a bit better than others in terms of social responsibility. But those initiatives generally are within relatively narrow parameters, such as not doing business with repressive regimes (or ensuring their workers living under those regimes are marginally better treated) or more carefully monitoring the environmental impact of their products.
They don't generally endanger the core business. They don't promise to radically restrict the lines of business the company enters. They don't disqualify the company from huge potential pools of revenue, endanger their entire business rationale or put themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage.
So it is no surprise that Google has given itself wiggle room on wireless net neutrality. It is surprising, though, how artlessly it did it. Consider the wording of the joint statement released by the two companies yesterday:
... we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.
Google had to know that net neutrality advocates would be incensed. If it didn't know how hyperbolic these folks can be, it could have Googled it. Suggesting that the state of access in wireless be assessed by an annual GAO report to Congress sounds like the last line of a job-rejection letter in which a promise is made to keep the applicant's resume on file. Such a promise, of course, is corporate shorthand for "have a nice life."
There needed to be far more detail here: About what, specially, would the GAO need to report to Congress? What constitutes conditions under which wireless net neutrality would be implemented? Clearly, this document only is a framework. But the situation called for Google to explain itself far more deeply than it did, perhaps in an accompanying post at the company's site. The paragraph on wireless in a joint Google/Verizon Op-Ed in today's Washington Post is equally vague.
It's true that the wireless world is competitive and rapidly changing. That makes it more important, not less, to put stringent net neutrality rules in place. If it truly is too early to do that -- which I doubt -- the company should say something substantive about when and how the subject will be revisited. Perhaps its proposal could suggest a date for an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the topic.
The worst thing the company could do, if it truly is open to wireless net neutrality, is to dissemble until the basic business and technological framework is set and real change much more difficult. Google's attitude is as disingenuous as it is disappointing.