Google-Verizon deal will put a nail in Net neutrality's coffin

Google, which has long claimed to be an advocate of net neutrality, is negotiating with Verizon to sign a deal which will all but kill net neutrality. The result? Less Internet innovation and higher prices for anyone who pays for Internet access. Google should end its hypocricy and back off on the deal now.

Under net neutrality, everyone gets the same level of Internet access, and Internet service providers such as cable and phone companies would not be allowed to restrict the kinds of services their subscribers use. In addition, service providers would not be allowed to charge Web sites extra if they wanted their content delivered faster than competitors.

This creates a level playing field. It doesn't give Web sites with deep pockets an unfair advantage over startups and less well-off competitors. So big Web sites have their service delivered the same way and at the same speed as Web sites without big money.

Google has long been an advocate of net neutrality. But no longer. It's doing its best to kill the idea. The New York Times reports that Google and Verizon:

are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation's leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.
Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

 Update: Google disputes the New York Times story, and says through a spokesperson, "The New York Times is quite simply wrong. We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google or YouTube traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet."

This agreement is the exact opposite of what Google has been saying for years about net neutrality. Here's what Google had to say in 2006 about net neutrality, when the company was urging people to write to their Congressmen to kill a bill that would harm net neutrality:

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.

So four years ago, Google was fighting against letting phone companies like Verizon choose "whose content gets seen first and fastest." It was railing against the establishment of a "two-tiered system."

Ah, but that was so yesterday. Today, Google is doing its best to work with Verizon to make sure that two-tiered system gets built, and that its own content "gets seen first and fastest."

Google, of course, has a lot to gain by killing net neutrality. When it comes to the Web, it's got the deepest pockets on the planet. By paying to make sure that YouTube videos are delivered at higher speed than competitors, for example, it can make sure that no other companies or startups will threaten it. The same holds true for all of its other services, either those it has now, or those it may create in the future.

We'll all be worse off if this deal goes through. Competition will be hurt and innovation will suffer. The New York Times also warns that if net neutrality falls by the wayside, "Consumers could also see continually rising bills for Internet service, much as they have for cable television."

Consumer advocates, who previously saw Google on their side, are infuriated. Gigi B. Sohn, president and a founder of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, told the New York Times:

"The point of a network neutrality rule is to prevent big companies from dividing the Internet between them. The fate of the Internet is too large a matter to be decided by negotiations involving two companies, even companies as big as Verizon and Google."

Google should end the talks with Verizon and go back to its original stand on net neutrality. The Internet would be better off for it, and so would we all.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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