There’s an old saying that everyone has a price and it now looks like Verizon has found Google’s. The two companies have released a joint proposal that many in the US, Canada and around the world argue would end the principle of Net Neutrality and the internet as we know it by leaving the door open for a corporate takeover of content.
In a nutshell, their legislative framework proposal starts off by sounding like it supports a free internet, stating that service providers can’t discriminate against any legal internet content, must offer consumers the ability to connect to any legal content, devices or applications they wish and must be transparent to their customers about the service they are offering. Then, it does an about-face and says that only the transparency principle applies when it comes to wireless broadband “because of the unique technical and operational characteristics of wireless networks and the competitive and still-developing nature” of the medium.
Leaving the door open to any type of service provider discrimination, no matter how limited it may be, allows for a two-tiered internet to emerge. If there’s a corporate-controlled fast lane and a public-access slow lane, then the internet would be no better than cable TV in terms of accessibility to smaller content producers with limited budgets.
Or, in other words, the dream would be over.
Net Neutrality ensures that people can access content from all providers equally, provided the specifics used to display it are similar. A high-def Flash video you uploaded of your dog walking around should play at the same speed as one from CNN, one from indie site Democracy Now or independently produced entertainment using the same format.
All media is eventually moving online: TV, radio, newspapers, you name it and some of it sooner rather than later. When it gets there, if the landscape is a two-tiered one, then not much changes overall for our media except the means of delivery, but if it is one operating on the principles of real Net Neutrality, then paying extra for better distribution is not an option.
Major corporate media will have to compete equally with independent content. If independent producers can produce good enough content to compete, then it will be the best ideas that win out and opinions blocked by corporate media will reach a wider audience. In effect, this will end the stranglehold corporations and their backers currently have on our public communications. That is an attainable revolution and one that very well may change the world.
So why doesn’t Google want to be a part of it? Rather, why don’t they want to be a part of it anymore? For the past five years, they’ve fought very publicly for Net Neutrality. They’re also the kind of company that seems all about freedom of expression and against anyone but the user deciding what can be seen. They went head to head with China over censorship and articles and sites criticizing them, if tagged properly, show up readily in their searches (in fact, Google was a particularly handy tool in researching criticism of them for this article) and even though they seem to want to catalog (and control) the world, they’ve promised to not be evil.
Well, one reason may be that they’d end up in the top tier. That would mean that you’d still be able to upload your video to (Google-owned) YouTube and it would still play at a normal speed, but it also means that your video would have to conform to their policies such as being under 10 minutes and not getting flagged.
As a huge company, Google is frequently the target of lawsuits and as such they’re a little more trigger happy than some other, smaller companies to remove content that has been flagged. Just ask anyone who has had a video removed from YouTube for no good reason and they’ll tell you that having a choice of other sites to post on is very needed.
If Google and YouTube make it to the top tier, will sites like Vimeo and Dailymotion make it as well or will content on those sites be part of the slow lane? If it’s the latter, then freedom of expression will most certainly be limited.
Whether it’s a monopoly or not, any small gains for Google now are drastically outweighed by the loss of the potentially revolutionary future of the internet. We can only hope that Google gets back on the Net Neutrality bandwagon and on the right side of history.