Once, Google had a simple business philosophy: “Don’t be evil.”
But now a deal between the media behemoth and Verizon may mark the end of net neutrality as we know it, and, frankly, that’s about as evil as it gets when it comes to the future of the Internet.
Net neutrality is the principle that there be no restrictions placed on consumers—not by Internet service providers, the government or any other business, corporation or entity.
Or, look at this way: Ideally, the Internet is a level playing field and no one person or company may buy its way into faster, better Internet access.
In an age of increasingly concentrated media ownership, it’s the only way to guarantee even a shred of digital democracy for all.
Last week, however, Google and Verizon reached a deal that creates a new online structure—one that would give users equal access to all “legal” content on the Web, while placing regulatory authority in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission.
But while the proposed venture eased concerns from those worried that Google and Verizon were going to create a tiered system in which Verizon would deliver Google content faster for an agreed-upon price, the deal is nonetheless riddled with troubling loopholes.
Namely, it proposes that net-neutrality rules should not apply to wireless access, stating “wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content … in a way that causes harm to users or competition.”
But wireless-broadband providers? In the new Google-Verizon universe they’d be exempt from this restriction and could, essentially, do whatever the hell they please.
It’s not the first time that Google has surprised the public with its ventures.
In 2006, the Mountain View-based company went live in China despite worldwide concerns about that country’s censorship controls. It was only after Google fell victim to Chinese-based cyber attacks that the company finally decided to pull out of that country.
Now, as critics and analysts worry that this wireless exemption is just a signal of things to come, Google is trying its actions.
The company’s senior policy director Richard Whitt blames the deal on “political realities.”
“This particular issue has been intractable in Washington [D.C.] for several years now. … We’re not saying this solution is perfect, but we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all,” he wrote. “If adopted, this proposal would for the first time give the FCC the ability to preserve the open Internet through enforceable rules on broadband providers.”
Oh, OK. Sure, right.
Here’s why you shouldn’t believe Whitt—and why you should be concerned, very concerned.
If the Google-Verizon arrangement goes through as planned, it’s just one step closer to an undemocratic Internet—one that could eventually (if the price is right) be restructured into a class system divided into a public tier and a corresponding private tier that’s faster—and more expensive.
And that doesn’t just threaten our inalienable rights to having equal access to porn, LOLcat videos and incessant Facebook chatting, it upends our right to be able to access information at the same level of quality as a person or company with much deeper pockets.
It threatens to endanger innovation and imagination and cheap grassroots entrepreneurship—the kind that Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page took advantage of in the late ’90s as they launched Google out of a friend’s Silicon Valley garage.
Remember your roots, Google—don’t go over to the dark side.