Above is a speech given in July by Senator Al Franken, in which he calls the Comcast-NBC deal the “first domino” in the collapse of internet freedom. Last week’s Google-Verizon deals seems to prove him absolutely right and then some.
This week Google and Verizon partnered up for a deal that has sparked an angry fervor across the web, and for good reason. In public statements, Google veiled the actual heart of the deal with calls for “strictly-regulated transparency” on all wired networks – the DSL or Cable you probably have at home. But if you read between the lines, you can see a very different plan being formed for wireless networks; the real future of the internet.
For those not versed in the debate over net neutrality; here’s a quick catch-up from techngadgets.com:
The debate pits network providers (like Verizon) against companies and individuals who use said networks to deliver products and services to customers (like Google). As web applications become more central in nearly every aspect of public and private life, the network providers have grown increasingly interested in recouping the massive amounts of money they spend on building and maintaining network infrastructure by charging those companies who use an inordinate amount of bandwidth (like Google) for privileged access and delivery to customers. The internet has never worked this way, so the idea is obviously upsetting to many people, who cite the web’s inherent openness as a key, if not the key detail that has allowed it to fundamentally change all of our lives in such a powerful way, and will allow it to continue to do so at the same breakneck pace in the future.
The plan establishes protection against tiered or paid services for any wireline networks, meaning all sites and domains get equal access to users. But the plan explicitly leaves wireless open for complete corporate control. If this plan is implemented, network providers will have the ability to give priority to certain services, such as their own internet tv services (this is mentioned especially in the release), while blocking other services which hog bandwidth. So depending on which corporation you’re getting your internet from, you might be allowed access to Netflix’s watch instantly service and blocked from accessing any other movie streaming service. Network providers would have the ability to block protocols like bittorrent entirely. It’s possible that you would be allowed access to any site you’d like, but only if you pay a certain premium. In the tiered-web model, different levels of payment would allow for different levels of access. Not to mention that the deal claims the ability to ban or remove any content deemed “unlawful”. This seems like a good thing, but it sets a precedent for censorship on the web. If a site like wikileaks is deemed “unlawful”, then there goes the last bastion of true government transparency.
Google justifies all this by emphasizing the freedoms they’d preserving for wireline networks; and deemphasizing the stranglehold they’re placing on all wireless networks. But anyone who’s considered buying a phone in the last 6 years knows that there is no question about it; wireless is the future of the web. Google’s plan even mentions encouraging governments to expand wireless access. This has been my personal tech dream for a long time, blanketed wireless access would be an incredibly important innovation for the internet. Think about the potential of every device you own having constant internet access. Now think about the potential implications of corporations having control over every aspect of the internet, which is constantly connected to every device you own.
Verizon’s reasoning for this is that current-generation wireless networks are fragile to maintain and expensive to build. But this is clearly an excuse for a deal which has been perfectly timed. As technology advances, wireless broadband access will become a much less precious commodity. Think about the amount of bandwidth you had when computers used regular phone lines to connect to the internet. That has changed incredibly quickly, and the nature of technology is that it advances exponentially. Don’t be surprised if soon after the Verizon-Google deal goes through, Verizon comes out with an even faster, more advanced wireless service, and suddenly Youtube looks like HBO and it’s given bandwidth priority over every other video streaming site. One day we will likely be swimming in more bandwidth than we know what to do with, but by that time, we’ll have forgotten what it means to have an internet which is a free, uncensored forum, where anyone can say anything, create anything, and share anything. In a world where so many elements of our lives are controlled experiences, the internet is one of the last places where we as users can freely have an unadulterated experience which isn’t watched by a corporate or governmental eye. The ball is already rolling, and it’s on course to crush net neutrality.