Want evidence that Google is just another avaricious, monopoly-minded corporate behemoth? Consider this: Google has retreated from its long-held support for net neutrality and teamed with Verizon to suggest that new laws allow Internet providers to favor some Web services over others. Google and Verizon also want Congress to exempt mobile devices from net neutrality and to limit the Federal Communications Commission's regulation of the Internet.
Google and Verizon have proposed this in a very simple and undeniably clever way, which — unless thoughtfully considered — appears to be eminently reasonable.
Under this plan, the Internet as it now exists and is currently understood would remain net neutral. All content would be treated as equal.
The Internet as it develops in the future, however, would be different. Tiered service would be allowed.
In other words, the giant corporate providers who effectively govern access and regulate traffic would be able to give preferential treatment to certain content or content providers.
This is, in and of itself, a nasty piece of snake-oil salesmanship, especially given the speed and unpredictability with which the digital world evolves. But when mobile access is stirred into the brew, it becomes positively toxic. All trends favor more and more mobile access. Morgan Stanley predicts that within five years, the mobile Web will outstrip the desktop Internet.
Given the extent to which the Internet governs economic development and the extent to which it is the medium for free speech, it is clear that the Google-Verizon plan is bad news. So much for Google's motto, "Don't be evil."
To understand this pledge, it must be considered in context. The pithy slogan appears as the first three words in Google's corporate code of conduct governing relations with investors. Yet no corporation can survive, let alone thrive, without turning a profit. So it stands to reason that Googlers (yes, that's how the company refers to its employees) may have a less restricted view of how to interpret the motto than, say, the world's non-Googlers.
If net neutrality were a simple code of conduct, then the FCC last year defined it as follows: providers cannot favor their own content; they need to explain when and why variable Internet speeds are imposed on consumers; and they can not limit access to lawful content.
As neat and clean as these principles seem, their implementation could prove to be difficult to impossible, thanks to the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which in April ratified rules adopted by the Bush administration that were intended to derail Internet regulation.
The court's decision undoubtedly contributed to the break-up last week of the closed-door discussions the FCC was holding with big Internet corporate players. Whether those talks should have been conducted in secret is now a moot point. But the parallels with former first lady Hillary Clinton's private health-care deliberations and Vice-President Dick Cheney's closed energy sessions are certainly troubling.