The closing of the Internet*

Imagine you are trying to start a news site in your community. Your competitor, part of a national chain, offers instant-on, full-screen HD video and a host of other data-intensive features that load the moment you hit “click.” But though you have a broadband connection, even simple videos that you’ve posted load slowly and play in fits and starts.

So you call your Internet provider — most likely Verizon and Comcast — and ask what’s going on. A sales person explains to you that if you want your readers to enjoy the same rich multimedia content as you competitor, then all you have to do is pay another $1,000 a month.

You can’t. You struggle on. And, within six months, you shut down.

That is a likely scenario if we move away from net neutrality — a vitally important principle that all Internet traffic should be treated the same. The FCC has been trying to mandate net neutrality, only to be shot down in the federal courts. And today the New York Times reports that Google and Verizon have been involved in negotiations to come up with a multi-tiered Internet with different levels of service and different levels of pricing. [Update: Or perhaps not. See below.]

“It’s like the end of ‘Animal Farm’ where pigs and humans sit down at the dinner table,” tweeted new-media strategist Steve Yelvington. In fact, Google at one time had been a leader in pushing for net neturality.

Please understand what net neutrality is not. There is nothing wrong with charging consumers more for better Internet service. Broadband costs more than dial-up, and fast broadband costs more than slow broadband. That’s life.

Rather, this involves the other end of the pipe, to fees that content-providers would pay in order to receive preferential service. It would make it far more difficult for start-ups, low-budget projects and non-profits to compete with big media sites. You might say that’s the whole idea.

Net neutrality is the baseline requirement for diverse, independent media. Those of us who spent years railing against corporate media consolidation have been pleasantly surprised, as numerous little guys — including significant players at the international, national and local levels — have been able to make their voices heard.

Along with the advent of closed systems such as Apple’s iPad and iPhone, the demise of net neutrality could mark the beginning of the end of this media explosion, and a return to business as usual.

Josh Silver, president of the advocacy organization Free Press, calls the pending Google-Verizon deal “the end of the Internet as we know it.” Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, offers some further thoughts.

For more information, including what you can do, check out Save the Internet.

*Update: Sharp-eyed reader Nick Mendez found a tweet from Google Public Policy claiming that the Times got the story wrong. According to @googlepubpolicy: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”

Wow. This bears watching. Will the Times retract the story?

6 thoughts on “The closing of the Internet*

  1. BP Myers

    @Dan said: fast broadband costs more than slow broadband.

    Not so sure about that. My provider offers three tiers of service out of the same pipe. They accomplish this by throttling back the traffic of those on the lowest tier.

    If fast broadband “costs” more than slow broadband (at least in my example), the true cost is simply what it costs them to throttle up and down the service.

    It’s as if your phone company offered “high-quality” phone calls or static-filled “low-quality” phone calls.

    And because ISP’s have been allowed to get away with such things, it’s no wonder they now believe they can get away with anything.

  2. C. E. Stead

    DK – one group that has done consistent good work in this area is the Electronic Freedom Foundation – http://www.eff.org/

    They really keep an eye on these efforts to tax and restrict the Internet, and their Blue Ribbon campaign also works to fight censorship.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    I still want to see what the Times has to say about Google’s claim that its story is wrong. But Times commenter Dan K (not me, I swear!) has dug out some links that suggest Google is pressing Verizon to ensure net neutrality on landlines in exchange for allowing Verizon free rein on its cellular networks. Definitely not the impression one would get from reading the Times story.

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