The media and the wider internet have been abuzz with discussion about a recent Google-Verizon proposal to handle the way data traffic is routed on both wired and wireless broadband networks. On its surface, the agreement appears relatively innocuous.
Under the (still theoretical) partnership, Verizon would agree not to give different sources of data priority on its wired networks, and it wouldn’t sell higher tiers of service to certain sites or clients. Some types of data, like video or voice traffic, might get routing priority over other types.
Where Verizon would be free to practice discrimination is the wireless world – and this worries a lot of young entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley veterans. Mobile internet today is like the web during the dot-com boom: still coalescing, full of competing ideas and standards, a bit rough around the edges but incredibly promising.
Young entrepreneurs and inventors are allying with venture capital to create services like Foursquare and SmallPlanet, combining web data, GPS and social networking in new and creative ways.
In the future, though, wireless internet could become tiered – and the upper tiers might be too expensive for startups. Relegated to the back bench of the network, innovators would simply not be able to compete with industry leaders, reducing opportunities for entrepreneurs and hurting the industry as a whole.
This outcome isn’t guaranteed – but it’s an example of what could happen if the internet stops being an open framework and is transformed into a pay-or-play clubhouse.