SEMA News - November 2010

With the Google/Verizon Deal, Your Website Could Be Dumped Into a “Slow Load” Zone

By Joe Dysart

  SEMA News-November 2010-Internet-Google 
A court defanged the Federal Communications Commission on Net Neutrality, finding that the agency had no authority to impose Net Neutrality regulations.


Google’s recent move to forsake Net Neutrality—the premise that all content on the web should be distributed even- handedly—threatens to have serious consequences for specialty-equipment industry websites, especially if other titans of the Internet follow suit. Slower-loading industry websites and bidding wars for preferential treatment from Internet service providers (ISPs) could become a sobering new reality for auto-parts businesses as the Internet’s current democratization gives way to enhanced service for those with the deepest pockets.

“This is completely unfair and would hurt smaller content providers (such as small-business websites) who didn’t have the resources to pay the fees,” said John M. Simpson, director of the Inside Google Project for Consumer Watchdog. “Content would be dominated by mega-corporations, much like cable television is today.”

Google has countered that its move to abandon Net Neutrality is a necessary “compromise” it needed to make with its ISP partner Verizon, which has long loathed Net Neutrality and which also promotes Google’s Android operating system on its Verizon phones. Essentially, ISPs, such as Verizon, have long complained that a concept such as Net Neutrality makes it impossible for them to charge higher rates for people and companies that consume more bandwidth than others. For example, someone’s grandmother, who sends e-mails to her grandkids a few times a week, shouldn’t have to pay the same rate as the movie fanatic next door, who is downloading bandwidth-hogging, feature-length films to a hard drive the size of a treasure chest all day, every day.

But critics of the new Google/Verizon alliance said that the companies’ joint proposal to take a pass on Net Neutrality when it comes to the wireless Internet will essentially, over time, transform a few giant companies into landlords of
the Internet.

“The Google-Verizon deal contains no protections for wireless access, which accounts for nearly one-third of all Internet connections, giving Verizon and other ISPs the green light to block or degrade content on their wireless networks,” said
S. Derek Turner, a research director at Free Press. “In addition, it would allow Internet service providers to discriminate online by offering private Internet services alongside those on the ‘public’ Internet.”

The threat is especially urgent, Google critics said, because there is currently no governmental body that has the authority to prevent what Google and Verizon have called a ‘proposal’ from morphing into an everyday business practice. The reason? While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has historically been the entity to regulate the Internet when it comes to Net Neutrality, a District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals decided in April that the agency has no legal authority to impose Net Neutrality regulations.

In a phrase, there are all sorts of people with all sorts of opinions about Net Neutrality, but there’s no one driving the car in terms of regulations right now. In the near future, fierce public backlash against a web devoid of Net Neutrality—which would divide itself into a collection of upscale gated communities alongside blighted digital ghettos—is keeping the wolf at bay, Google critics said. But critics fear that without government intervention your auto-parts business could be negatively impacted in the long term in the following ways:

  • Some content providers, such as video-sharing sites, would be able to pay an added fee to ensure that their videos download faster on the wireless Internet than other videos. In practice, this could mean that videos from YouTube (a Google-owned company), for example, would download quicker than, say, the promotional videos you have on your specialty-equipment website. “This would clearly be possible on the wireless Internet under the Google-Verizon proposal,” said Consumer Watchdog’s Simpson. “I think, indeed, that the deal would allow for some paid premium services on the wired Internet as well.”
  • Some businesses might have the opportunity to pay a premium fee on the wireless Internet to ensure that their websites download faster than the websites of other, non-fee-paying businesses in the same industry. “This is unfair and would limit competition and consumer choice,” Simpson said. “Consider the implications of Google being able to pay for its search service to download faster than Bing’s search service.”
  • Competitors in the same industry, including the specialty-equipment industry, could ultimately be forced into a bidding war for the fastest website download times on the wireless Internet. This bidding war would mirror the war that currently rages every day among businesses that bid on Google keywords, which lead searchers to sponsored links. “This is unfair in that it would give preference to a few of the wealthiest, largest companies,” Simpson said. “The Internet was supposed to provide open access to all comers, treating all data the same.”
  • Some company websites could simply be closed out of the fast lane on the wireless Internet due to private deals struck between mega-ISPs and their preferred customers. Your ISP, for example, may decide against granting download access to a company such as after cutting a deal with a competitor that offered a similar service on the web. As another example, “Verizon could offer only Google’s search,” Simpson said. “The Internet was meant to be open to all equally. This violates that basic principle and is clearly unfair.”
  • Some companies could be forced to pay an added fee on the wireless Internet if they wanted to add new services to their websites in future years. Fifteen years ago, for example, adding easily downloadable video on a website was virtually unimaginable. Now, a 10-year-old kid with a cell phone can do it between lollipop licks. If the Google/Verizon proposal was in effect 15 years ago, we could all be paying extra for the privilege of offering video on our websites. “This is one of the most damaging aspects of the Google-Verizon deal,” Simpson said. “New charges could be added for heretofore unimagined services. Clearly, this unfairly thwarts innovation—or, at the least, limits ‘innovation’ to only those who can afford to pay. This is tremendously damaging to new start-up enterprises, the real incubators of true innovation.”
  • Some company websites on the wireless Internet could begin to see fewer hits, as ever-rising Internet connection fees for consumers and business users—such as the ever-rising fees we now all pay for cable—begin limiting the number of users freely surfing the web. “This is exactly the danger,” said Simpson. 

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Voice: 646/233-4089

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