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5 potential problems with a Google-Verizon net neutrality pact

Will the proposals make the net better or worse?

This week Google and US telecoms provider Verizon unveiled a proposal to maintain an open internet. We look at five problems the search engine's pact with the telecoms provider could create.

Why is wireless out?

By all accounts, wireless internet (3G and Edge cellular service) is the fastest-growing means for accessing the internet. So why does the Google-Verizon proposal leave wireless access out of the network neutrality debate? The proposal says the wireless industry is too "competitive and changing rapidly" to be included in any net neutrality agreement.

But if safeguards aren't put in place now, what happens when wireless access becomes the dominant way to access the internet? In fact, that future may be here sooner than you think. A recent study by Morgan Stanley predicts more people will be getting online via mobile devices than PCs within five years. What happens to network neutrality then?

What does 'lawful internet content' mean?

The Google-Verizon proposal says broadband providers "would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful internet content". I have to wonder if by "lawful internet content" what these two companies really mean is "any content but torrents," also known as peer-to-peer (p2p) file sharing.

It's no secret that broadband carriers have a grudge against p2p file sharing and wouldn't mind if it disappeared. Vuze, a company that makes p2p software, has claimed in the past that all US broadband carriers disrupt p2p traffic. Broadband carrier Comcast has battled against file sharing in recent years claiming the file sharing protocol slows down the network for all users.

It's also no secret that many users on p2p networks are trading copyrighted files such as major Hollywood movies, TV shows, video games, music and even digital scans of comic books.

But p2p can be used for legitimate purposes as well. Activist group the Yes Men recently released their documentary 'The Yes Men fix the World' as a publicly available torrent file. Michael Moore did the same thing for 'Slacker Uprising' in 2008, and the CBC (Canada's public broadcaster) has also experimented with distributing content via torrents.

For all the criticism and bad press it gets, torrent protocols are an efficient and useful way to distribute content (legal or otherwise). So how would the Google-Verizon proposal effect p2p file sharing? Would access to sites like The Pirate Bay or other torrent databases be restricted based on accusations that most of the content it points to isn't 'lawful'? Also, how deeply would broadband carriers be monitoring p2p traffic to watch out for unlawful content on their networks?

NEXT PAGE: What happens to the regular internet?

  1. Will the proposals make the net better or worse?
  2. Why wireless is out
  3. What happens to the regular internet?

See also: Poll: 32 percent approve of web traffic prioritisation


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