by Matthew L. Schafer
On Thursday Bloomberg and The New York Times broke a much anticipated and rumored agreement between Internet service provider Verizon and the Internet’s largest search engine Google that will allow Google to pay for greater access to Verizon Wireless bandwidth. This comes after months of talks between Google and Verizon regarding the management of bandwidth and an April U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision stripping the Federal Communicaitons Commission of any power to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against certain types of content.
“No entity from either the government or the private sector should wrest control from consumers over how they choose to use the Internet, and the government should not implement policies that would limit consumers’ ability to choose for themselves,” Google and Verizon wrote to a filing to the FCC in January.
Despite their January assertion, the rumored deal between Verizon and Google would directly interfere with how wireless users access to the Internet. According to the New York Times, there will be no “fast lane” for content providers through Verizon’s wired service, however. While Verizon and Google have not confirmed the agreement, if Google and Verizon have in fact come to such an agreement, it would be the first time in the history of the Internet that corporate dollars could buy greater access to bandwidth.
“Any outcome, any deal that doesn’t preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet for consumers and entrepreneurs will be unacceptable,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told the press on Thursday.
The decision by Google and Viacom comes on the same day as Sen. John Kerry [D-MA] released a statement conceding that net neutrality legislation from Congress is unlikely to gain support. In lieu of legislation, Kerry urged the FCC to take up the battle for net neutrality.
“While this is an imperfect solution, it’s his only real option to maintain the proper role of government oversight in communications,” Kerry said. “While we search for a long-term solution I believe that all regulatory options should remain on the table.”
The move also has media advocacy organizations, including Public Knowledge and Free Press pushing back. In Thursday morning’s New York Times, Public Knowledge argued that the fate of traffic management should not be decided by two companies. Free Press also objected to the agreement going as far as calling it “the end of the Internet as we know it.”
“Since its beginnings, the Net was a level playing field that allowed all content to move at the same speed, whether it’s ABC News or your uncle’s video blog,” Free Press CEO Josh Silver wrote in an op/ed to The Huffington Post. “That’s all about to change, and the result couldn’t be more bleak for the future of the Internet, for television, radio and independent voices.”
While this issue is far from being resolved. Today should be a wake up call to citizens and government officials. Past fears are becoming the reality. Indeed, the Internet, if this agreement procedes unchecked, will be like a library with corporate media content on the shelves closest to the floor and library patrons, while all other content will be relegated to the uppermost dusty shelves–out of reach to all except those most committed to spend the time seeking it out.