Net Neutrality is an enormously important matter for competitiveness and freedom in this country, and Google is about to reverse course after years of heavy lobbying against a change in policy. It’s a stupid and frustrating move, and one that is driven purely by profit opportunity for Google, without regard for the “little guy”.
The FCC cleared the way (through a lousy decision that they lacked any authority) for Verizon, Comcast, ATT and other carriers to restrict access to certain parts of the Internet… if, for example, Comcast wants to prevent you from accessing Google sites, or severely limit the speed in which you can access iTunes downloads, they are free to do that.
So the Google-Verizon deal can be summed up as this: “FCC, you have no authority over us and you’re not going to do anything about it. Congress, we own you, and we’ll get whatever legislation we want. And American people, you can’t stop us. – Josh Silver in “Google-Verizon Deal: End of the Internet as We Know It“
They can force web sites like Google or iTunes (or millions of small publishers) to “pay a toll” for users to be able to access those sites. The telecom companies could create entire sections of the Internet that are restricted, and effectively control the relationship between user and site.
Much of this could happen regardless of what ISP (or onramp) to the Internet the user chooses, and regardless of what bandwidth providers connect into the data centers of your favorite websites… telecom companies control the transit and IP routes along the way, and could impose these restrictions and tolls throughout.
The lobbying campaign by proponents (mostly a handful of large telecom companies with lousy business models) has been sneaky and duplicitous. Here in Illinois, I’ve watched “grassroots” organizations crop up out of nowhere to purposely confuse the issue… it was all fake grassroots, or “astroturf”, arguing how AT&T stood for the little guy, and changes to telecom law would spur innovation.
Google has been one of strongest opponents, using their muscle to stand up for millions of small businesses and publishers on the Internet that could be effected. And now Google is cutting a deal, leaving the little guys dangling, and shifting dramatically what the future Internet could be. It’s bad policy, and it’s bad business for a company that claims their first priority is to “not be evil”.
The arguments in favor of the telecom companies are not without some merit… the telecom companies built much of the backbone that the Internet runs on, and some web sites clog up those pipes significantly more than others. You can see why the telecom companies might argue for the ability to restrict their user’s access to certain sites, but doing so fundamentally transforms the free, equal and open Internet that has changed the world over the last two decades. This should NOT be a decision made by some cabal between giant corporations, without some government regulation or oversight.
The impact of a tiered Internet, where consumers have little control, and a small number of big telecom companies control everything being delivered over the Internet pipe (TV, phone, the flow of information, etc) is deeply anti-competitive and anti-freedom.