Alibi V.19 No.33 • Aug 19-25, 2010 

Thin Line

Digital Justice

Google's been known as a fierce advocate for net neutrality. But the web giant, along with Verizon, is suggesting a model critics say threatens Internet freedom. "What they're trying to set up is a public, slower-running Internet and a private, faster-running Internet," says Andrea Quijada, executive director of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project.

Let’s back up. When I picked up the phone to call Andrea Quijada, executive director of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project, my call was not rerouted to a corporation without my permission.

That's the metaphor she uses when I ask about net neutrality. The Internet as we know it is neutral—your provider doesn’t slow your connection to or route you away from businesses it competes with. Your browsing isn’t directed by corporations.

Under the Google-Verizon proposal, wired connections would remain neutral, but wireless networks would not be subject to the same policy. Removing Internet freedom would mean online discrimination, Quijada says. "We need democracy to extend to the Internet."

"Just the way that we need water and electricity, we need the Internet. It's that fundamental to our daily lives."

Andrea Quijada, executive director of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project

Not only does Quijada’s telephone analogy lay out a parallel of what could happen if we lose net neutrality, it also shows the net as a communication service. We use it to apply for jobs, to run our businesses, to stay in touch with friends and families. "It's a basic utility," she says. "Just the way that we need water and electricity, we need the Internet. It's that fundamental to our daily lives."

If the Internet is not viewed as a communication service, then the Federal Communications Commission is not the regulatory body that would govern it, she says. And that could open the net up to corporate censorship. She spells it out further: "I want to read this article, and I go to alibi.com. Because my provider is opposed to the Alibi or doesn't support independent media, I could be slowed down drastically or rerouted. Smaller venues could be blocked."

The basic discussion's been going for years. Net freedom fighters advocate that all information, sites and platforms should stay equally available to consumers. Opponents say rules enforcing neutrality will interfere with progress and competition. These last few days, the topic is back in the national consciousness because of the Google-Verizon suggestion.

Google's public policy blog defended the company's position on Thursday, Aug. 12. Though Google once advocated for wireless neutrality, in the "spirit of compromise," it's suggesting instead that the wireless market should go unregulated "while Congress keeps a watchful eye." Note the lack of FCC in that plan. Four House Democrats are not crazy about the proposal. Reps. Edward Markey, Anna Eshoo, Mike Doyle and Jay Inslee say it's too "industry-centered."

Quijada and the Media Literacy Project are calling for FCC action to keep the Internet free of corporate censorship. You can see more of their work on issues of Internet access and net neutrality at nmmlp.org. The organization is also working alongside Color of Change in Berkeley, Calif., and the Media Action Grassroots Network to spread the word about a petition calling for net neutrality. Go to colorofchange.org/opennet.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.