Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Imagining the Future Through Google's Eyes

Google and Verizon want to sever the handling of wire-based communication and wireless communication, with wire-based regulated and wireless unregulated. They want wireless communication unregulated so they can be "unfettered" to develop it. The Internet that we all know would remain neutral. The wireless cloud would not.

Consumer protection groups are strongly opposed to an unregulated wireless world, but actual consumers haven't said much about it, possibly because the idea hasn't gotten around yet, but more likely because it's hard to understand what we might be losing. How can you miss what doesn't exist yet?

Google is one of the best companies (along with Apple) at envisioning the future and creating it. It built the Google Books project for years before it occurred to the rest of us that maybe one company shouldn't control all the content in every book ever written. It was months after authors received very one-sided release forms that the media and the government finally got involved.

This alone makes me think Google has envisioned a wireless future, and it's not in our best interests to let Google own it. Remember what happened when Bill Gates understood the future better than IBM? Microsoft happened. Google is already a megacompany. What could it become with a good running start?

Imagine 3-D computing as seen in Iron Man. This is the carrot they hold out. But...
Imagine a reliable, high-quality video conferencing network that many businesses will have to have to stay competitive. Now imagine there is no competition and no regulation for this service, and businesses must pass its cost on to its customers (us).
Imagine having to listen to a commercial before your cell call goes through.
Imagine unregulated satellite TV (hey, there's always cable).
Imagine unregulated monthly service fees for iPad and Kindle like you now pay for TV and telephone.

Imagine paying for access to wireless content like you now pay for TV channels. Let me be clear, I don't object to content developers getting paid for content; they should.

--I object to a gate fee to all content equivalent to a gate fee on a library.

--I object to bundling content that either forces you to view content you don't want or provides a disincentive to access a broad range of content.

We assume that the Internet as we know it will stay the way it is, but why? Why shouldn't Google move its operations to the more profitable wireless network? And what would be left of the wired web without:
-Google search, the dominant search utility
-Google merchant services and shopping listings, essential to Internet sellers
-Google maps
-the aforementioned Google books
-Google blogs (like this one)

And who will follow Google to the unregulated frontier? If there's an app for that, it becomes part of the unregulated world. The better question is, what's left in the wirebound zone?

---WSJ already has a pay wall. If WSJ, NYT, LAT and Financial Times got together and offered themselves as a bundle behind a single paywall, that would be fine. That would be the equivalent of paying extra for HBO. If the top 200 major news sites around the world bundled themselves, you're now looking at something like a toll gate on a library--having to pay to access any news. Not a problem if news is available on the wired web, but what if these sites go wireless-only, too?

----Now think of the flip side: no access to sites except the bundle you pay for--the cable TV model. There are a limited number of cable channels, but there are an infinite number of web sites. All those blogs and pages that have connected political activists would become out of sight, out of mind, consigned to the wired gutter that is getting less and less traffic.

This is the future that consumer groups can imagine all too well.

This post from ARSTechnica discusses Google's change in position away from net neutrality.
This post by John Nichols at The Nation also describes a potential divide between the corporate sponsored information superhighway and the winding dirt road address the rest of us will have.

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