Don’t Be Evil.
It was a great slogan for a transformative company that was telling the world that it could make lots of money while still being an honest broker.
But as it turns out, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) may not be different from any other large corporation that cares only about its bottom line. Like other corporate giants, Google does not have a problem with pressuring the government to pass policies that reward big business at the expense of the public.
According to news stories, Google has reached an agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) that would allow the companies to orchestrate a corporate takeover of the Internet. They want to create a tiered Internet with fast lanes for content produced by big companies and slow lanes for content produced by everyone else.
The deal would effectively spell the end of network neutrality, the principle that enabled Google to exist in the first place.
Now that Google has benefited from policies that allowed a startup to become one of the most successful companies in the country, it is now seeking to protect its online dominance by shutting the door on the open Internet to prevent competition and to maximize profits.
The irony is that, while Google is colluding with Verizon on a deal that would allow for corporate censorship on the Internet, it is also working the State Department to pressure foreign countries to open up their markets to prevent government censorship abroad.
What makes this deal so problematic is that a federal court ruled in April that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not have the authority to regulate the broadband industry. The decision threw out the legal framework adopted by the Bush administration to deregulate the broadband industry, a framework that has resulted in a broadband market dominated by companies like Verizon, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).
At this moment, the FCC does not have the authority to prevent companies like Verizon from engaging in online corporate censorship by blocking or discriminating against certain content online. The FCC, however, can reestablish its authority to reregulate the broadband industry and protect the public from discriminatory business practices.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has faced relentless pressure from the phone and cable companies to stop the FCC from moving forward. Instead of standing up for the public, his office has held closed-door meetings with Google, AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, allowing these companies the opportunity to write their own rules that would restrict our free speech rights online.
The chairman announced last week that his office will end the backroom negotiations. But no matter how the chairman tries to put a positive spin on what went on at these meetings, we all know nothing good comes from federal agencies allowing themselves to be captured by industry.
If we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the open Internet as we know it, Chairman Genachowski wouldn’t be the only one who deserves blame.
While the news media have been obsessed by the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, one story they have missed is how corporate campaign contributions have united both Democrats and Republicans to work together to kill an open Internet. Close to 80 Democrats have formed an alliance with House Republicans to kill net neutrality. They have written to the FCC, urging the Commission not to move forward with protecting an open Internet.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who has led the effort among Democrats in the House to undermine the FCC, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) just introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent the commission from acting to protect the public.
President Obama campaigned on a promise to take a “back seat to no one” in his support of network neutrality, a position he restated earlier this year. There’s worry the White House now might retreat from that position since it wants the phone and cable companies to continue writing checks to Democrats during this midterm election.
So while many Americans were angered last week by the actions of a company that tried to sell the public that it was honest about its “Don’t Be Evil” corporate philosophy, many are also losing confidence in the promises made by the FCC chairman and President Obama to protect an open Internet by passing strong net neutrality rules that would prevent discrimination online.
Don’t Be Evil? Change We Can Believe In?
Actions still speak louder than words.
— Joseph Torres is the Senior Advisor, Government and External Affairs, for Free Press.