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Google & Verizon's Evil Plan Is Really Bad News for Regular Internet Users

If we wake up one day to an Internet that has a carpool lane for the upper class, it's worth thinking about the alternatives.
 
 
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The firestorm over tech giant Google and telco titan Verizon's self-interested proposal to arbitrarily codify a pay-to-play Internet will dominate the news in the coming months, as net neutrality steps onto a mainstream media stage crowded with Muslim mosques and other distracting fodder. But now that other telcos like warrantless wiretapper AT&T have quickly endorsed Googlezon's proposal, it was left to Jon Stewart on a recent episode of the Daily Show to sum up the mammoth migraine awaiting us all: " We're fucked."

My colleague Ryan Singel at Wired had a similar take, calling the one-time staunch net neutrality defender Google a " carrier-humping net neutrality surrender monkey." Both assessments are dead-on: By giving up its previous commitment to open networks and devices in both the wireline and the wireless space, Google -- arguably the most powerful tech company in the world -- has simply cashed in its neutrality chips, nearly fully compromised " Don't Be Evil" corporate philosophy, and screwed us all. The irony is that the Internet we've become used to over the last couple decades has made Google and Verizon powerhouses in the first place.

"The Internet and communications industries are in the same category as the energy, transport and finance industries: for they are the lifeblood of commerce and speech in this nation," said Columbia Law School copyright and communications professor Tim Wu, whose 2003 paper "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination" helped shape the network neutrality issue. "Just consider the power and public role of firms like Verizon or Google (especially if they work together). Sitting atop the web, they can influence what firms succeed or fail -- by making sites load faster or slower, or end up on page 10 of search results. It goes further -- in subtle ways, the information carriers have the power to influence elections and even censor speech they don't like."

The ramifications of allowing dumb-pipe telcos like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and others to instead provide tiered services -- with the so-called "public Internet," no doubt slowed to a crawl, firmly stashed at the bottom of that traffic hierarchy -- is simply insane. It would be like your city allowing businesses, local and otherwise, to determine which blocks of your homeward commute become toll roads. Sure, one road would be spared in the interest of the public good, and it would be claustrophobically crowded with anyone and everyone who decided against paying the toll because of economic hardship, because of philosophical disagreement, because of whatever.

"The greatest danger of the fast lane is that it completely changes competition on the net," Wu explained in a New York Times roundtable on Google and Verizon's sweetheart deal. "The advantage goes not to the firm that's actually the best, but the one that makes the best deal with AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast. Had there been a two-tier Internet in 1995, likely, Barnes and Noble would have destroyed Amazon, Microsoft Search would have beaten out Google, Skype would have never gotten started -- the list goes on and on. We'd all be the losers."

Or as IO9's Annalee Newitz put it: "Googlezon has succeeded in creating a caste system in the online world, and the public is the lowest caste of all." Cue Jon Stewart's disturbing truth. No laugh track please.

But is there an option available to the public, other than pressuring Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski to join his FCC colleagues Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn -- as well as level-headed politicians like Al Franken, Alan Grayson and others -- in their efforts to reclassify broadband as a communications service, a political no-brainer if there ever was one? After all, the FCC has already filed a plan to do just that, but has yet to move on it, although with Copps, Clyburn and Genachowski on board it has the needed votes. It seems the easiest place to start, although Grayson has rightly complained that the whole debacle "doesn't inspire confidence that the FCC can hold the line against telecom and cable companies, when those companies have something else in mind."

 
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