Access of Evil: Google, Verizon and the Future of Net Neutrality

Curator's Note

Google and Verizon recently released a 2-page immodest proposal, a “policy framework” for FCC consideration, outlining their vision for the future of net neutrality. Net neutrality is the current principle requiring Internet service providers to adhere to the rule of common carriage and treat all communication moving through their pipelines equally. Those advocating against it (e.g., those same service providers) would like to create a “tiered” Internet – one which treats the content of high paying customers differently, transporting it in a digital “express lane” while everyone else waits…and waits…and waits. The Google-Verizon proposal is a combination of decent ideas (such as advocating for certain measures of transparency) undercut by terrible ones that would severely threaten the future of an open Internet (exempting the wireless arena from net neutrality regulations). The fact that these companies are actually purporting to help the FCC write and set policy would be hysterically funny if it were not being taken so seriously by the press, lawmakers and even those charged with regulating the Internet.

Given their often-competing interests, these companies are strange bedfellows indeed. Their newfound alliance would not be possible, were it not for Google’s dramatic about-face on the issue of net neutrality. As recently as 2006, Google was rather active and innovative in their appeals to the public to join the fight to preserve net neutrality. Columbia law professor Tim Wu and others have argued that without net neutrality, Google might have been crushed by Microsoft before the company ever got off the ground. What a difference four years in a deregulated telecommunications landscape makes.

In addition to busting Google for shifting positions on net neutrality and going over to the dark side in this clip, Jon Stewart highlights the free-range consumer ignorance and paucity of informed media discourse that threaten to take down this critical issue of cultural policy. Granted, regulatory debates are difficult to explain and don’t usually make for great television. Even comedian and former SNL star Senator Al Franken could not inject enough energy into a recent interview about the future of net neutrality to keep the most engaged viewer from falling asleep. Thankfully, the “fake news” of The Daily Show provides regular wake-up-calls like this one.


Talking about hysterically funny, the Jon Stewart video clip cannot be viewed from outside the US.  All I see from here in the UK is a black screen with the caption "Sorry, Videos are not currently available in your country."

Or maybe I am slow and this was the whole point of your note?

I'm a Stewart fan, but I must admit that the final note of this clip leaves me a bit despondent.  Is the eduction of the public enough in this instance?  What action does this clip inspire the public to take? 

That said, I'm not trying to make Jon Stewart responsible for promoting network neutrality.  What intrigues me most about your post is the gap between Google's original support of network neutrality and their proposal for today.  Is there an historical regulatory precedent for their distinction between wired and wireless communication?

If this proposal is likely to be taken seriously by the FCC, ISPs, and other stakeholders in the debate, where will the "informed media disocurse" take place?




Very much along the same lines that Karen's following.... Though I know the show has its own special ways, I was struck by some of the weirdness of the Daily Show segment (letting stand the “big Rush / big Huff” illustration, ignoring forms of non-telegenic activism, etc.). At lots of different levels, I thought that it really pointed to the urgency of your concern for the politics of policymaking around net neutrality. This might be a question as much for Bill and Allison and anyone else as for you, but I’m curious about what kinds of structures of public engagement and participation have been opened up (or closed down) around net neutrality, in comparison to other public problems....

I'm pretty sure the activists in that clip are members of Code Pink Women for Peace.  They've been some of the most theatrical media activists; back in 2003, in protest of the FCC's new media ownership rules, they hung out in front of the Commission to deliver to Commissioner Powell a pink slip--literally, a piece of pink lingerie--as a way of registering their disapproval.  Free Press has been building an extensive Save the Internet coalition, which has provided additional ways to advocate for net neutrality beyond singing in front of Google's offices.  Though Stewart clearly has different public responsibilities that journalists, I agree that it's unfortunate that this is the vision of net neutrality advocates, since it is an issue that multiple organizations and citizens have been taking quite seriously for some time.  

To build on Jen's post, it has struck me (this is only an impression), that the Google/Verizon proposal has received far more attention, for the reasons Jen identifies, than the Comcast v. FCC decision of a few months ago, in which the appellate court announced that the Commission does not have regulatory authority over ISP network management practices.  Within the world of Internet policy, this is a far more concrete and significant development.  And there's been little press over how the FCC has been moving forward on net neutrality in its wake, or of (according to Free Press) the close to 2 million people who have contacted Congress or the Commission in support of neutrality.  

Yet so many people have never heard of the issue or, if they watch Glenn Beck (who characterizes it as a fascistic like form of government censorship), completely misunderstand it.

It's a real question of how to make media policy accessible and interesting, but also how to make visible the multiple parties, not just the media corporations, who have a hand in shaping it.

Wasn't it just a few short months ago that Google was not only not evil, but they were freakin' Santa Claus, promising to bestow a 1-gigabit fiber network on a handful of lucky communities?  Somehow the public managed to grasp the economic and political importance of free and open communications then!

(In this regard, please pardon the self-promotion, but to respond to Josh's question about structures of public engagement, I wrote a post for Antenna on how cities organized and lobbied for Google Fiber, in which I began playing with ideas about popular policymaking that also showed up in my 4chan post.)

To echo Allison, the most dismaying thing about net neutrality is how it has been hijacked by the right to become a cheap "government takeover of the internet" lie. Two years ago, this was a largely bipartisan issue (like station ownership caps before it), but the political climate has obviously shifted, and Obama is showing zero leadership in this area.  Sigh.

But my larger point is that, like Google Fiber, people can get it and get it quickly if the issue is connected to their immediate interests: in the arcane realm of media policy, the concept and importance of net neutrality is actually relatively easy to grasp. This is cause for optimism, but it is also why Stewart's treatment of this issue is so depressing.  There are lots of ways to be funny, so was it really necessary to marginalize the good guys on this one?

Bill and Allison - I agree that Stewart makes media reform activists look foolish here but that is partially my reason for using this clip. It really encapsulates the way that "the left" and their concerns usually get depicted or characterized- as weak, naive and not worthy of being taken seriously. I think that is one of the most dangerous and depressing elements of how this policy issue is circulating. Maybe interested policy scholars could combine energies and ideas to create another visible, substantive public forum to support the work of Free Press and like-minded reformers/activists.  Too much accessible policy information is never enough! 

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

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