"[Barry] Diller asserted that the Google-Verizon proposal "doesn't preserve 'net neutrality,' full stop, or anything like it." Asked if other media executives were staying quiet because they stand to gain from a less open Internet, he said simply, "Yes."" New York Times, August 12, 2010
The Verizon-Google Net Neutrality Proposal begins by stating that "Google and Verizon have been working together to find ways to preserve the open Internet." Well, that's nice. Imagine what they would have come up with if they had been trying to kill off the open Internet.
Actually, you don't have to imagine it. Because that's what this is. An effort to kill off the open Internet.
Much of the coverage of the Verizon-Google Proposal has focused on only one of the proposal's many problems: the fact that the proposal allows wireless broadband carriers -- like, say, Verizon, for instance -- to discriminate in handling Internet traffic in any manner they choose. They can charge content providers, they can block content providers, and they can slow down content providers, just as they please. That sure doesn't sound "neutral."
We've already seen examples of political censorship over mobile networks. In 2007, Verizon refused to run a pro-choice text message from advocacy group NARAL, due to its supposedly 'unsavory' nature. Yes, this happened; yes, this kind of censorship would be continue to be legal under the Google-Verizon deal; and yes, Google, this is evil.
But the Verizon-Google Proposal allows almost as much latitude to other internet carriers, like cable and DSL carriers. Under the heading "Network Management," all carriers can "engage in reasonable network management," which "includes any technically sound practice" (which means what?). And it specifically includes the power to "prioritize general classes or types of Internet traffic, based on latency." The term "latency" means delays in downloading, from carrying video files and such. So if you want video, and YouTube won't pay Verizon to provide it, then Verizon can "prioritize" other traffic. And then your two-minute video will take two hours to see. And let's say you want to start a new website that offers video -- good luck getting through to Verizon's customer service department, to have Verizon place it in the right 'tier' of Verizon's internet service. In my experience, customer service requests have extraordinarily high "latency."
Furthermore, under the heading "Non-Discrimination Requirement" (that sounds promising!), wireline carriers cannot engage in "undue discrimination." "Undue discrimination!" What, exactly, is "due" discrimination? And even then, the presumption of non-discrimination "could be rebutted."
And if a carrier somehow manages to run afoul of these absurdly loose standards, the FCC doesn't even have the power to act, unless someone actually finds out about the discrimination, complains about it, and can prove it. And even then, the Verizon-Google Proposal limits the penalty to $2 million.
Do you happen to know what Verizon's revenue is every 10 minutes? It's . . . $2 million. That's right. The maximum fine is equal to what Verizon takes in every 10 minutes.
Do we laugh? Or do we cry?
This would give Verizon -- and every other large internet carrier -- the equivalent of a cheap "put" option on every company with an internet-based product or service. For a mere $2 million, Verizon could secretly block (or just mess with) the internet content of a billion-dollar company, destroying its market value overnight. And, perhaps, sending those customers to Verizon's rival product or service.
Now, I really would like to believe that the FCC can deliver on guaranteeing net neutrality. But remember, this 'proposal' came after months of secret, closed-door meetings with the FCC, spurred by Chairman Julius Genachowski, that sought an industry- brokered deal along the lines of the Verizon-Google Proposal. And when the proposal was issued, net neutrality's longtime ally, Commissioner Michael Copps, responded as follows: "Some will claim this announcement moves the discussion forward. That's one of its many problems."
When I see our most stalwart friend on the commission coming out against a deal shepherded by the Chairman, it doesn't inspire confidence that the FCC can hold the line against telecom and cable companies, when those companies have something else in mind.
Google's market capitalization is $150 billion. Verizon's is $85 billion. They don't care about our wellbeing. Never have, never will. Even if one of them tells us it won't "be evil."
It's time for the FCC to step up. It's time for Congress to step up. It's time for all of us to step up. We need for the law to protect the internet: No discrimination in pricing or in service. No self-regulation by corporate titans. And no blessing of corrupt deals at the FCC.
And we need all citizens to engage, to be vigilant. Remember, no one in Big Business has an interest in keeping this medium open to all of us. The only interest that wants to keep the internet open and free, for you and me, is you and me.
So if you care about a free and open internet, uncensored by Big Business, then look toward the horizon. A storm is brewing. There's a hard rain coming.
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