Why would anyone get mad at Google?
It’s the beach from which most us step off to surf the World Wide Web.
We tap a few words in a box—which is framed by a whimsical drawing—and instantly we have found that recipe for madeleines, that definition of antidisestablishmentarianism, the truth about where Barack Obama was really born, the nearest bowling alley and a life partner.
But, last week, activists with civil rights, social justice and free speech groups were protesting outside Google’s Mountain View, California, "campus," where they voiced objections to a backroom deal between Google and Verizon that threatens to make the Internet over as a digital version of a bad cable-TV package.
Instead of a free and open Internet that will take Americans wherever they want to go—thanks to the net neutrality principle that is best understood as the first amendment of Internet governance—the Google-Verizon deal threatens to create a circumstance that would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to speed up access to some content while leaving the rest in the dust. This "pay-for-priority" approach would mean that big corporations could effectively buy speed, quality and other advantages.
Here’s how it might work. Suppose you rely on Verizon for wireless service. You want to know about the oil spill on the Gulf Coast. You type in some words to direct the search and up pops a BP site, beautifully-presented and seemingly packed with all the latest news. And what is the news? The BP was a victim of circumstance, that it is doing everything in its power to clean things up, that it certainly should not be held responsible in any formal manner. Chances are the second site that pops up will be that of a BP front group. And the third. And the fourth. Where’s the real story? Not on the information superhighway that BP travels but on the digital dirt roads to which public-interest groups that cannot afford to pay the big bucks are relegated.
If the fastest and highest-quality service only takes you to the sites of paying customers, the small "d" democratic promise of the Internet will collapse and this incredible invention—which has so much potential to connect us all to one another and the world—will become he cable TV of the twenty-first century. Or worse.