When you think about the Internet, what do you think about?
Google and Verizon in the U.S. came together to propose a new direction for both the Internet and the future of wireless connectivity that seems to be ruffling many feathers within the industry and among media and technology pundits alike. Before diving into this complex debate on so-called Net Neutrality, ask yourself this: Should everyone who has access to the Internet be entitled to access each and every website, blog and Twitter feed equally – at the same speed without being blocked or denied access?
Before answering that question…
Consider a news item titled, Finland makes 1Mb broadband access a legal right (CNet – October 14th, 2009). "France, one of a few countries that has made Internet access a human right, did so earlier this year. France’s Constitutional Council ruled that Internet access is a basic human right. That said, it stopped short of making ‘broadband access’ a legal right. Finland says that it’s the first country to make broadband access a legal right."
If countries throughout the world are now considering broadband Internet access a human right, we need to be thinking about the issue of Net neutrality now (and, perhaps, in a very different light).
The best definition of Net neutrality came out of a New York Times article, Internet Proposal From Google and Verizon Raises Fear for Privacy (August 15th, 2010): "a policy that would prohibit Internet service providers from exploiting their role in delivering information to favour their own content, or the content of the highest bidders." To translate: those who own the digital pipes, tolls and bridges can assign different levels of pricing and speed of access to the Internet. And you thought a two-tiered health-care system was a contentious topic for debate.
What’s been really irking the public is that Google – long a defender of Net neutrality and equal access for all, and a company known for it’s informal corporate mantra of "Don’t be evil" – is standing by their commitment to an equally accessible connectivity for broadband Internet access, but is now recommending that wireless connectivity be exempted. On The Google Public Policy Blog, Richard Whitt (Google’s Washington Telecom and Media Counsel) states: "It’s true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services. However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye."
Think about what these many technology, telecommunications and media companies now know about you.
Google accounts for close to 80 per cent of all Internet-based searches. It also accounts for more than 95 per cent of all searches done on a mobile device. Many mobile devices now use Google’s Android operating system. This means Google knows every call you place. Google knows what you are searching for. Google knows which buttons you are clicking on. Google knows what your location is at any given moment. Let’s not forget about those who also use their popular email application, Gmail, or those who use their Web browser, Chrome.
Privacy isn’t just a problem for Facebook.
While Facebook and their privacy policies seem to be attracting the most media and public attention – because people don’t realize that by becoming a member of their online social network, they are – in effect – giving Facebook permission to publicly publish the content they put on there, think about this: how would you feel if all of the searches you were doing online (or on your mobile device) were made either public or were being used to target you better with advertising?
Many people tell a search box things they would not ever mention to their own spouses, children or parents.
Net neutrality is not a political play. Net neutrality is a business play. Both Google and Verizon are businesses (as are all of their competitors). There is no longer a mobile Web and a broadband Web – there is one line of connectivity. Because of devices like the iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid and beyond, people are just connected and online. The technological advances won’t finally lead us to a place where we have even faster broadband Internet access and an equally fast mobile Internet.
The endgame here is one line of connectivity, and the easy bet is on mobile.
Make no mistake about it, the real Internet of tomorrow is not the plug that runs from your computer into the phone jack or cable box. The real Internet is the untethered and wireless one. It’s the same Internet that Google and Verizon are asking to be exempted from Net neutrality. This is a little bit like setting up speed limits in 2010, but only making them applicable to those with a horse and buggy.
So, what are you going to do about it?
*UPDATE: since the writing and submission of this article, Google has revised some of its views. You can read more about it here: Google fires back at net neutrality critics.
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
- Montreal Gazette – Make no mistake about it: Net neutrality is a business play.
- Vancouver Sun – Not yet published.