By Anthony Castillo
The battle to maintain a free and open internet is coming to a head. A decision on Net Neutrality will be made in the coming weeks by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on whether to keep things as they are now or to create a tiered, fast lane/slow lane internet. What is Net Neutrality and why should we all care?
We have a neutral internet at the moment. We are all able to look at any web site we choose, and based on the speed of our internet connection all content arrives at the same rate. But if Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and a few other mega communications corporations get their way that will all change. The corporate model that they prefer would create fast lanes for the big companies that could afford to pay for these fast lanes, and slow lanes for those who could not afford to do so. Example, say you want to go online to look at past issues of the Free Venice Beachhead and the LA Times. As it stands now you can do both with no difference between the two. But if Net Neutrality is rolled back, you would be able to access the LA Times because they could afford to pay Verizon, or AT&T for faster streaming. But the Beachhead, well we struggle just to produce the paper each month, so our stream might become agonizingly slow, and it gets worse. The users of the internet will have to pay more for what they want to see on the web as well. Say you watch sports, movies, internet TV shows, online seminars, or porn for that matter, on the web and you want it to stream the way you’re used to, well you’re going to have to pay for it to do so or else it will stream at dial up speed if you don’t. Think of cable TV and you will have an idea of what the internet would look like. Without a neutral internet, internet service providers (ISPs) will make profits on content coming and going. In other words Net Neutrality is the principal policy that prevents ISPs from giving special treatment to some websites at the expense of others.
President Obama finally spoke out in favor of Net Neutrality in no uncertain terms earlier in December when he urged the FCC to re-classify the internet under the 1934 Title II provision which would treat broadband companies as a “telecommunications service” instead of as an “information service” and as a common carrier like a public utility. A phone company can’t charge you different rates based on the content of your phone conversations. And the water and power company can’t charge you different rates based on what you’re using electricity or water for. The internet should be treated in a similar manner, regardless of what you do on the internet. Former cable company lobbyist and FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler wants to rollback Net Neutrality, but after President Obama’s statements has had to back-pedal just a bit from this position. The President should have never appointed such a cable company shill in the first place, but I digress. The FCC received 3.9 million comments during its public comment period. More than it has on any other topic. Over 90% were in favor of Net Neutrality. You would think this fight would be easy, but lobbyists and campaign contributions trump the public’s voice almost every time when it comes to decisions made in Washington DC.
The scales could be easily tipped in favor of Net Neutrality if the biggest internet company, Google, would speak up on behalf of a free and open internet as it did in 2010. But instead Google is sitting on the sidelines, more content to gentrify Venice than weigh in on Net Neutrality. Why is this so? There are several theories being talked about ranging from how Google itself wants to one day soon be a broadband provider of some note with the introduction of Google Fiber. Then there is the Republican faction within Google such as former Republican Congresswoman, Susan Molinari, who is the head of Google’s Washington DC public relations operations. Rank and file Google employees have urged the company to take a strong stand in favor of Net Neutrality in its campus meetings, but with no results. Then there is the 2010 fight where Google did stand up for Net Neutrality and came out looking less than stellar after it caved to Verizon on the important decision to exempt wireless carriers from Net Neutrality rules. Allies in the fight saw this as a sellout, while taking a stand at all alienated Republicans on Capital Hill. Yet when it came to the 2012 fight over the unpopular anti-privacy legislation (SOPA/PIPA), Google bucked both political parties to help kill those pending bills. Then there is that “Google is now big enough to play both sides and still win” theory. Who needs ideals when your company is big enough to cut a check to whomever you need to? Of course the irony in this thinking is that without Net Neutrality companies like Google and its acquired You Tube would probably not have been able to emerge in the first place.
While all these theories make credible points there may well be a more insidious reason why Google is sitting this one out. In his new book “When Google Met Wikileaks” Julian Assange reveals a side of Google not widely discussed. In June of 2011 at the Ecuadorean embassy in London where Assange has been in asylum, Google chairman Eric Schmidt and three other Google heads paid the Wikileaks founder, Assange a visit. The pretext for the visit and interview of Assange by Schmidt and company was for a book that Schmidt and Google Ideas head Jared Cohen were researching. What Assange learned about Google was frightening. Assange learned that Google has a revolving door with the US State Department.
In fact Google Ideas acts as an in-house State Department actively meeting behind the scenes to broker deals with heads of state and expand its global influence. To paraphrase Assange, Google’s position being pushed from its most senior executive level to US officials is that the state or a state body should determine what should and should not be published. This is a philosophy that runs counter to the very idea of Net Neutrality. Google’s business model is to collect as much data as possible on as many people as possible to create predictable profiles to target advertising. And now with the advent of Google Glass, not only will it be collecting data but now it will be capturing all the images the user sees. With the NSA and FBI interfacing all of the data stored on all of its users, Google has became a proxy arm of the national security state. So why should Google care about a silly little idea like Net Neutrality when in its Orwellian nightmare cyber world they win no matter what? They should care because we care!
Call Google and tell them to get off their collective asses and join Netflix and others in the fight to save Net Neutrality. Visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation website eff.org or SumOfUs.org and get involved. Check out the interview with Julian Assange on RT’s Going Underground program Season 3. It’s on You Tube and you can Google it. Better yet, buy the book so you can really learn what Google is really all about. It goes much further than just changing the face of Venice.
By Anthony Castillo