The Internet Protocol hit the fan today, when Verizon, one of the largest Internet Service Providers in the U.S. and that nation’s largest mobile phone network, and Google, the largest Internet company in the world, released a joint proposal about how the Federal Communications Commission should regulate Internet traffic.
Although this Verizon-Google Pact wasn’t signed on September 27, 1940, in Berlin by Chancellor Hitler, Italian Foreign Minister Ciano, and Japanese Ambassador Kurusu, if it is implemented, it could soon be as catastrophic to worldwide neutral use of the Internet as the simultaneous attacks on Singapore, Hong Kong, and Pearl Harbor were worldwide to commerce and to consumers in 1941.
The proposal has an Orwellian ring to it. It says that Internet service providers should treat all creators of Internet content the same, and should not be able to block them or offer any of them preferential treatment (i.e., a paid ‘fast lane’ on the Internet), but it makes exceptions with wireless Internet access and for potential new services that broadband providers could offer. According to The New York Times story about the proposal, news services such as “advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options.” In other words, all Internet animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
The decade we’re now in will see mobile phone wireless access become the primary way by which people worldwide access the Internet (i.e., all the world’s news, entertainment and information). All the world’s mobile phone handset manufacturers are now building the majority of products on the Apple iPhone or Google Android designs, equipped with the same Web browsing, email, and video downloading capabilities as desktop or laptop computers. More than four billion people worldwide now use mobile phones, meaning phones that now or soon will have full Internet access and be as powerful as today’s laptop computers.
If implemented, the wireless Internet access exception to the Verizon-Google Pact would allow Verizon and every other U.S. mobile phone network operator to delay or block content from any content creator 0r competitor and provide preferential treatment (a ‘fast lane’) to their own content or any content creator who pays them.
Likewise, the ‘advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options’ exception would allow any broadband wire Internet Service Provider to to delay or block content from any content creator 0r competitor and provide preferential treatment (a ‘fast lane’) to their own content or any content creator who pays them.
Those exceptions are commercial loopholes the size of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans respectively.
Writing at GigaOm, Stacey Higginbotham notes that the proposal would also emasculate the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to ensure overall neutrality of any remaining Internet traffic, replacing it with a proposed “case-by-case enforcement” of violations.
You can be sure that whatever decision the FCC takes, its policy will be imitated by government communications agencies in many, if not most, other countries, worldwide.
Last week, the Cable News Network’s website published an opinion essay by the junior of the two United States Senators Minnesota, a long-time content creator named Al Franken. Under the headline Net neutrality is the foremost free speech issue of our time, Franken wrote:
“Net neutrality” sounds arcane, but it’s fundamental to free speech. The internet today is an open marketplace. If you have a product, you can sell it. If you have an opinion, you can blog about it. If you have an idea, you can share it with the world.
And no matter who you are — a corporation selling a new widget, a senator making a political argument or just a Minnesotan sharing a funny cat video — you have equal access to that marketplace.
An e-mail from your mom comes in just as fast as a bill notification from your bank. You’re reading this op-ed online; it’ll load just as fast as a blog post criticizing it. That’s what we mean by net neutrality.
But telecommunications companies want to be able to set up a special high-speed lane just for the corporations that can pay for it. You won’t know why the internet retail behemoth loads faster than the mom-and-pop shop, but after a while you may get frustrated and do all of your shopping at the faster site. Maybe the gatekeepers will discriminate based on who pays them more. Maybe they will discriminate based on whose political point of view conforms to their bottom line.
We don’t have to speculate. We can look to the history of the media gatekeepers for examples….
And it isn’t even strictly a political issue. The internet’s freedom and openness has made it a hotbed for innovations that change our lives. It’s been an incredible engine of job creation.
The internet was developed at taxpayer expense to benefit the public interest. If we let corporations prioritize some content over others, we’ll lose what makes it so valuable to our economy, our democracy and our daily lives.
My hope is that the Obama Administration’s FCC will resist the Verizon-Google proposal, and resist other major media or telecommunications companies’ attempts to paint the proposal as a compromise between public and corporate interests. It’s not a compromise, but a connivance to control what you get when on the Internet.
Meanwhile, the ironic synchronicity of someone inventing an Internet version (above) the capitalism board game Monopoly must be noted. Timing indeed.