Ever since the New York Times reported that Google and Verizon were in negotiation for an agreement regarding paying for prioritization of content over the internet, there has been a lot of web discourse predicting the end of net neutrality. Basically, net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should provide equal access to all web content, and not prioritize content providers who are able to pay to ensure speedier delivery. Obviously, the rumors about this Google-Verizon deal seemed to fly in the face of this ideal.
Well, Google and Verizon announced their plan (or “policy framework”) on Monday, and it’s not quite as bad as some doom-and-gloom predictions, but it is certainly bad enough. Siva Vaidhyanathan interprets the deal to be a trading of mobile net neutrality in return for continued neutrality for the “classic” internet – the wired internet. A careful reading of the policy points on Google’s blog post show that wedged in with all the talk of a commitment to maintaining an open web for wired communications, there is an exemption for mobile communication (allegedly to allow for innovation).
As a librarian, I see negative consequences for the end of net neutrality for information literacy. It’s hard enough to teach students that the fact that something was the top hit on Google doesn’t mean it is the most authoritative source. But what if certain pages load faster than others? If it’s harder to access a wide range of ideas from different sources, that makes it much harder to fully evaluate the information you can access. But this isn’t the only thing that I find troubling about this situation. I was thinking about the report from Pew Internet on internet use via mobile devices that came out recently, and how one of their major findings was that mobile internet use was greater among African-Americans and Latino/as. In addition, cell-only wireless internet use is higher among these demographic groups than for white internet users as well. Bobbi Newman (Librarian by Day) responded to this finding by cautioning that since so many websites do not work properly on mobile phones, we should be careful about equating mobile web access to full broadband access:
“I firmly believe that this will result in the sort of second class citizens that the Knight Commission warns us about.”
And now, if mobile web access lacks the same net neutrality protections of the “wired” web, that second class citizen status gets even worse. It is somewhat unclear from the report whether the African-American or Latino respondents to this survey predominantly or only access the web from their mobile phones, or if they have broadband access through a desktop computer as well. Even the finding of how many people use only cell phones is phrased as only for wireless internet access, meaning it’s possible that people could still have wired access. I would like to know how many people do primarily access the internet through their mobile devices, and how this breaks down demographically. If this means that certain groups have better access to information than others because of their method of using the internet, that is very troubling. It just highlights that fact that partial net neutrality is not real net neutrality.
What do you think? Am I misreading these reports? What have I missed?