Over the last few years, Google has been a company that understood Net Neutrality, and they staunchly supported the fight to protect the open Internet. After all, their own company was hatched and then exploded into a phenomenal success thanks to the open platform of the Internet.
With their success has come power, and along the way the start-up-turned-corporation has pledged a "don't be evil" ethic. But now the company has trampled that pledge and turned its back on Net Neutrality. The New York Times and dozens of other news outlets have reported that Google has been negotiating with Verizon to unilaterally craft ways to tweak the underlying principle of the Internet for their own gain. Read: Erode Net Neutrality without explicitly saying it. Meanwhile, the Internet for us, the public, would change forever.
According to press reports, Google has agreed to allow ISPs to construct a new pay-for-play private Internet. But since this news broke, Google has been doing damage control by saying that they haven't "had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic." But this is sleight-of-hand. They've apparently come to an agreement on what is known as "managed services," or "specialized services." This scheme will ensure new online innovators will never be able to compete effectively with Google, because they will have to make due with the bandwidth scraps left over for the public Internet. Also in a stunning reversal for Google, they have agreed that no Net Neutrality rules -- not even a ban on the outright blocking of content and application -- should apply to wireless Internet access.
As Google prepares its rhetoric and smoothes out a landing pad for its plan, the company has been painting those who support true Net Neutrality as radicals who are on the fringe of public opinion, yet this is the same position Google fiercely defended and advocated for in years past. The hypocrisy here is grandiose.
Just four years ago, Google was urging Internet-users to call their lawmakers to support the bourgeoning fight for Net Neutrality. Google CEO Eric Schmidt wrote in a letter:
Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody - no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional - has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can't pay.
And Google's Vint Cerf said:
Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success...number of justifications have been created to support carrier control over consumer choices online; none stand up to scrutiny.
Oh how the tables have turned in just a few short years. "They" now includes Google, and the "justifications" are being hatched by the company itself. Here's Schmidt this week defending Google/Verizon's proposal:
People get confused about Net neutrality. I want to make sure that everybody understands what we mean about it. What we mean is that if you have one data type, like video, you don't discriminate against one person's video in favor of another. It's OK to discriminate across different types...There is general agreement with Verizon and Google on this issue.
Hey Google, remember when you wrote to the Federal Communications Commission in 2007 urging them to protect Net Neutrality and the innovation and healthy competition it created on the Internet? No? Well you did, and here's what you said word-for-word:
Unfortunately incumbents operating in today's concentrated broadband market have the incentives and ability to discriminate against third party applications and content providers.
Traffic prioritization allows the broadband provider to become an unwanted gatekeeper in the middle of the Internet. Because of the market power they currently employ, broadband providers have the technical ability and economic incentives to determine which packets of Internet traffic get delivered to which consumers under what conditions. The end result is that the Internet becomes shaped in ways that serve the interests of the broadband providers, and not consumers or innovative Web entrepreneurs.
Moreover, as will be seen, neutrality actually is an indispensable component to accelerating broadband deployment. Broadband providers actually can make considerable money from putting improvements into the network itself, rather than merely profiting from traffic congestion. Further, countries that enjoy an open environment, such as the United Kingdom and Japan, tend to provide more bandwidth at lower prices.
What about recently? In April, 2010, Google was telling the FCC that rules to protect "nondiscrimination" on the Net were neither "new" nor "radical." And they warned of the possible outcomes if the FCC fails to protect Net Neutrality:
Broadband providers' statements about their intended (and current) practices demonstrate why oversight is vital. This situation makes immediate FCC action imperative to prevent broadband access practices, terms, conditions, and arrangements that are antithetical to the evolution of the open Internet from taking root and spreading. Experience teaches that lack of action by the FCC will be considered a "green light" for broadband providers to become much more aggressive in restricting usage of broadband networks and services to maximize profits.
Given the company's history on Net Neutrality, the fact that Google is now in cahoots with Verizon in crafting ways to dismantle the open Internet is both stunning and outrageous. And the company's mission, "don't be evil", is now buried under a mountain of corporate greed that has Google becoming "the incumbents" they once warned against. It's a shameful day.
But blaming Google for finding ways to deepen their own pockets is like blaming a tiger for eating a goat. We can hold them to some modicum of social responsibility, but at the end of the day, they're a corporation - it's what they do.
It's ultimately up to the FCC to protect Net Neutrality, and we need to hold them and our lawmakers accountable to us. We need to fight back and speak up to tell the FCC that we want a completely open Internet.