Why Facebook Unfriended Google and Verizon on Net Neutrality

Last Updated Aug 11, 2010 4:00 PM EDT

The Google (GOOG) and Verizon (VZ) proposal for a broadband policy framework -- notice that the two avoid the phrase "net neutrality "â€" has set off a lot of discussion. Some has been in support, but there has been significant criticism. Now Facebook has joined the voices of dissent, explicitly saying that equal treatment of Internet traffic should occur both on landline and wireless networks.

There are some intentional shortcomings in the Google and Verizon proposal. One I found was that the two want to effectively push the Federal Communications Commission out of the way. Companies often want to cut free from regulation, but for Internet communications, where there are so many different interests, that would be highly unwise.

But the issue of largely leaving wireless out of the discussion has caught broader attention. The proposal would exempt wireless mobile networks from everything but a call for transparency. Both Google and Verizon argue that, like F. Scott Fitzgerald talking about the rich, wireless is different:

Sixth, 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.
To be brief and blunt, this is nonsense. Consumers have a greater choice for landline broadband -- often between telephone and cable providers -- than they do for wireless. The latter has only two large carriers in the US: Verizon and AT&T (T). Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile are much smaller, and other players even tinier. And given that wireless broadband happens over cellular networks that are robust and decades old, using the term nascent is unreasonable. Is there a huge adoption of the technology? Yes, there is, but that's different from pretending there's a fledgling sparrow sitting in a nest.

Facebook knows this and came out strongly against the proposal:

"Facebook continues to support principles of net neutrality for both landline and wireless networks," said Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, in a statement. "Preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators -- regardless of their size or wealth -- will promote a vibrant and competitive marketplace where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections."
Furthermore, Facebook increasingly depends on broadband connectivity. In February, the company announced that it had 100 million mobile users. If you've ever spent significant time using the service, you know how often people post video and music links. Facebook needs to have such higher bandwidth traffic get through to users, whether they are at desktops or on smartphones. And given that Google is a major rival, you might see how Facebook could think that no wireless net neutrality would turn out to be a bad deal.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.