Google, Verizon and Net Neutrality

Wayne Rash
The New York Times is reporting that Google is negotiating with Verizon for a way of giving its YouTube service priority over other traffic. The newspaper, not known for its technical acumen, is aflutter about what it calls the end of net neutrality. But is it really?

The facts are that the New York Times has no idea whether this is anything to be concerned about or not. Partly this is because the newspaper doesn't seem to know what the two companies are actually negotiating about, and partly because the reporter doesn't seem to understand quality of service (QoS). OK, there I go throwing around technical acronyms, but the fact is that asking a carrier to support quality of service packets is a lot different from being the end of net neutrality.

The questions not answered are whether Google is asking for exclusivity in this discussion about priority, or whether it's asking for Verizon to honor its QoS flags on video packets from YouTube. Pretty much anyone who uses an Ethernet network for anything involving audio or video streaming knows what QoS does. It basically ensures that the packets arrive in sequence and that they have a higher priority at the router than packets that don't have such flags set.

Using such quality flags is important to voice communications to a greater extent than even video, because your brain is more sensitive to information discontinuities when you hear things. This is why it's so hard to listen to a cell phone call when the signal is really crummy, and why it's just annoying to watch a video feed that has occasional drop outs.

If that's the case, then what Google is really asking from Verizon is that its routers be set to honor QoS flags. This takes time to implement (although not much else since virtually any router purchased since the Stone Age can be configured to honor QoS), which is probably why Verizon wants Google to pay for it.

But does this really affect net neutrality? There's nothing to indicate that any traffic will be excluded in such an arrangement, there's no information so far that Verizon won't also work with anyone else who wants such treatment. In fact, there's nothing to indicate that Verizon won't simply enable QoS on its routers and honor priority that's set by anyone.

Basically, packet handling is part of network management, and network management is allowed under any definition of net neutrality that I've seen. Unless there's some indication that Verizon is planning to hurt other services, deny access to some websites, or degrade access to other video services, then I'm not sure this is really a net neutrality issue.

But the fact is, right now we don't know what Google and Verizon are talking about, and histrionics about the end of net neutrality are premature. Considering the fact that right now this issue is more speculation than fact, it would seem that the New York Times is crying wolf for the sake of Web traffic. Right now they don't know what's planned (if anything) and neither does anyone else except the two companies involved.

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Aug 11, 2010 5:08 AM Harold Sharpe Harold Sharpe  says:
I think the time has come for us all to consider what power the people have. It is time to make a stand. Consider this,... What if everyone who believed the net neutrality is paramount, and on September 1st 2010, made a stand. All of them dropped verizon phone, verizon wireless, verizon fios and verizon fios tv. What if all of the people who believe this is important, did a similar thing to google? Stopped using google for anything. No Searches, no email, no google voice, no google maps, no buzz etc? Do you think they would take notice? Not just for a day, but a huge slap in their face. No more google , no more verizon ever. If the people take a stand. the companies will surely fail quickly. While I would not want to see companies fail, I would prefer they live up to their word. When they don't live up to their word, and they think they are bigger than life, it is time to take them down a notch. Verizon as a company can be wiped off the map in mere months if just 40% of the people canceled their accounts. Google may take a bit longer. Keep in mind, the share holders would tell google what to do if they noticed a difference. If other companies saw verizon fail then sprint and att would not attempt such an idiotic idea. I will be leaving everything google and everything verizon on September 1st 2010. Please join me. Make a stand! On September 1st, 2010, stop using Google for anything. Cancel your Verizon accounts. Start now to set everything up to work around. I will cut all their services on September 1st 2010. Instead of verizon wireless I will use sprint. Instead of verizon phone services I will use vonage. Instead of verizon fios internet I will use time warner cable. Instead of Fios TV I will use time warner Cable. Instead of google maps I will use Bing. Instead of google search I will use bing search. Instead of google gmail I will use windows live or On September 1st, 2010 I will remove all things google or verizon from my cell phones and computer. I will not come back to Verizon as I believe they overstepped their bounds. I will not come back to google as I believe with this mistake they should fail. Good Bye Verizon Good Bye Google. You signed my cancellation when you ended, or tried to end, net neutrality. Please join me and make a stand on September 1st 2010 and end google and verizon instead of net neutrality. Reply

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