Has the internet just sold its soul?









Google stood accused last night of betraying the founding principles of the internet, as it readied a deal that will abandon key parts of its support for "net neutrality", which has guaranteed equal access to the worldwide web since its inception.

In what one internet freedom campaigner called a "doomsday scenario" that will change the internet forever, the search engine pioneer is close to agreeing terms with the largest telecoms company in the US that would open the door to special "fast lanes" for favoured internet traffic.



Google denied that it will sign any deal to buy fast-lane access for its own traffic, which includes bandwidth-heavy videos from its loss-making YouTube site. It said: "We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic and we remain as committed as we always have been to an open internet."



The bilateral agreement between Google and Verizon raises the spectre of big media corporations carving up the internet between them, and side-steps the Obama administration's attempts to ensure that all internet traffic is treated the same, regardless of whether it comes from the smallest blogger or the largest online video site.

Google, which has stood by its early motto of "Don't be evil" while growing into a $160bn (£100bn) media colossus, was hastily trying to shore up its reputation last night, as it faced a torrent of criticism from campaign groups and individuals venting their anger on Twitter and on blogs.

But the agreement between Google and Verizon is meant to lay ground rules for the treatment of internet traffic by the phone and cable companies over whose networks the data travels. Although the exact terms were shrouded in mystery, it was clear that the outline they have agreed introduces exemptions to the principle of net neutrality, including the opportunity for telecoms operators to offer "premium services" to some internet companies.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, told reporters yesterday that the company has been "talking to Verizon for a long time about trying to get an agreement on what the definition of net neutrality is". He said: "People get confused... What we mean is that if you have one data type, like video, you don't discriminate against one person's video in favour of another. It's OK to discriminate across different types."

Under the deal, Verizon will not block or slow internet traffic over land lines, but could do so to wireless devices, which are increasingly important ways for consumers to access the internet.

The two sides have not publicly announced their agreement, but last night the proposed deal killed off an attempt by the US telecoms regulator to patch together a broader pact, backed by the Obama administration, to safeguard net neutrality after a series of meetings lasting into the weekend were callled off. If the Google-Verizon deal is made public, the support of the most powerful players on either side of the debate could immediately make it the de facto standard for managing internet traffic in the future, and is likely to win enough backing on Capitol Hill to be signed into law. It would also have resonance across the world, as similar debates about the future of the internet are taking place in most developed countries. In the UK, the regulator Ofcom plans to consult on the issue after British Telecom warned that the popularity of iPlayer meant the BBC was hogging too much of the nation's network capacity.

Telecoms companies argue that being allowed to charge more to heavy-traffic internet companies will bring in the money needed to increase network capacity. Opponents fear a two-tier web, in which start-up companies and individual bloggers will be frozen out, and where prices for consumers could rise sharply.

Josh Silver, of the US advocacy group Free Press, said a Google-Verizon deal was the "doomsday scenario" that had been feared for years. "It marks the beginning of the end of the internet as you know it," he said. "Since its beginnings, the net was a level playing field that allowed all content to move at the same speed, whether it's ABC News or your uncle's video blog. That's all about to change, and the result couldn't be more bleak for the future of the internet, for television, radio and independent voices."

Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge, another internet freedom advocate that has been lobbying for net neutrality, said: "The fate of the internet is too large a matter to be decided by negotiations involving two companies, even companies as big as Verizon and Google."

The regulations governing how telecoms and cable companies manage their networks have been in confusion for several months, since a court overturned the Federal Communications Commission's fine on Comcast, a cable operator which had been censured for secretly slowing down some customers' internet connections. The company had been trying to limit the amount of bandwidth used by people who download large amounts of music and video over the web. The FCC's legal authority to regulate internet traffic, and therefore make good on President Barack Obama's campaign promise to safeguard net neutrality, has been unclear since the court ruling.

News of the agreement of principles with Verizon, after 10 months of talks between the companies, began to emerge yesterday and Google was immediately subjected to a deluge of criticism on Twitter. "Don't be evil, my ass," one correspondent wrote, while many others called it a "sell-out" and urged followers to support online petitions in favour of net neutrality legislation. One Twitter user, jkercado, said simply: "Et tu, Google?"

Without giving more details, Verizon last night said its goal is "an internet policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation".

Don't be evil?

1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin officially launch Google, two years after they develop a search engine called BackRub as a research project at Stanford University. It is named Google, a play on "googol", which is the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros.

1999 An employee comes up with the informal motto "Don't be evil" which is later written into the company's official Code of Conduct.

2000 Google becomes the largest search engine, allowing users to search more than 1 billion URLs. The group begins selling advertising. AdWords allows anyone with a credit card to create advertising targeted to keywords to run alongside search results.

2004 The search index hits 6 billion items, including 4.2 billion web pages. The company goes public, listing at $85 a share.

2005 Google Earth: a map of satellite images of the entire Earth's surface, drawing criticism from privacy groups and security officials.

2005 Publishers and authors take legal action over Google scanning and copying books.

2006 Google buys YouTube. It offers a censored version of its search service in China.

2007 The debut of Google Street View, which raises privacy fears over displaying faces and number plates. Separate concerns raised over the archiving of users' searches.

2008 European Union report says Google and its rivals should delete user data after six months. Google had already committed to making search logs anonymous. The indexing system counts 1 trillion URLs.

2008 The first smartphone running Google's Android operating system is launched – the HTC Dream.

2009 Annual revenues hit $23.6bn. Google falls prey to hacking in China and responds by removing the restrictions to its search results.

2010 Google admits some of its Street View cars harvested information from public WiFi spots. More privacy concerns over the launch of its microblogging service Google Buzz.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Microsoft Gold partner, our c...

    Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Analyst / Helpdesk - 2 Month Contract - £15ph - High Wycombe

    £15 per hour: Ashdown Group: IT Analyst / Helpdesk - 2 Month Contract - £15ph ...

    Recruitment Genius: Automation Test Analyst

    £35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This group is the world's secon...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas