TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: So here’s a question you probably don’t think about much as you sit down at your computer. Should everything that’s out there online — games, videos, e-mails, the whole thing — should it all be treated the same? Same price, same download speed, same access. That, in a nutshell, is what the debate over something called net neutrality is about. People that own the pipelines — the Internet service providers — say no, we ought to be able to charge more for stuff that takes up more space in the pipes, the bandwidth. Content providers say nuh-uh, same price for everything. It’s only fair.
The FCC is working on new rules for this. That’s why a headline in the New York Times today got a lot of attention. The paper said Google and Verizon have reached a deal on how to price content. Both sides say there have been meetings. They deny any deal was made, but just the fact that they are talking about this is worth spending a moment or two with Marketplace’s Steve Henn. He joins us now from our outpost up in Silicon Valley.
Steve Henn: Hey.
Ryssdal: So this is one of those stories that always makes people go cross-eyed, right? This idea of net neutrality. I mean, what’s the big deal now? What’s going on?
Henn: The big deal is — and the reason we should care about this — if these rules aren’t done right, they could end up crushing the folks who are trying to launch the next startup. You know, build the next Google or Amazon or YouTube. Most startups typically don’t have a lot of cash. One of the first stories I did when I got out here was about a guy, Jack Abraham, who’s launching a business called Milo. He wants to make it possible for you to search the local inventory in stores around you online. So if you want jeans, you can find out what jeans are in stock, where they are, how much they cost. And it’s a great idea. He’s got some momentum. But if he has to pay to get his information out there in the fast lane, on the Internet, it could kill him. He could be dead in the water.
Ryssdal: Yeah, so let’s talk about another search company, right? The one in the news today. Google used to be all about equal access on the web. They used to be the white knight of net neutrality.
Henn: Yeah, that’s right. They were in there fighting the battle for Abraham and all the little guys. And that’s why the fact that they’re talking to Verizon about a deal that might change the way the Internet works is big news. Yesterday, in Lake Tahoe, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he’s still for net neutrality, he’s down with that, but most people really don’t understand what it means. And he sort of redefined it. And what he talked about was the possibility that Google could get behind the idea of one price for data that’s traveling over the net. Another price for voice. Another price for movies. And maybe even another price for video games. And that really would be a pretty profound change in how the Internet works.
Ryssdal: So it’s net neutrality based on business model, right?
Henn: It’s net neutrality sort of based on what data is flowing online. So if you’re really into video games, you’re going to have to pay a lot more to get your “World of Warcraft” fix.
Ryssdal: Right. But what if I’m just a light Internet user who checks my e-mail twice a day, boom.
Henn: Well, you know, then you might be able to get a package that is more like basic cable, just with your networks and your C-SPAN. They’re the Internet equivalent and that will serve you fine. And it’ll cost you a little bit less, perhaps.
Ryssdal: What about federal regulators, the FCC? They’ve been in and out of this for years.
Henn: That’s true. They are in the process of trying to hammer out a deal and a new set of regulations on this right now. And the thing to keep in mind is that the talks between Google and Verizon really aren’t a business deal. I mean, Google hasn’t agreed to pay Verizon to move its traffic faster. In fact, they specifically denied that. What’s going on today is more like a peace negotiation in a really old lobbying war. And if Google and Verizon ultimately can agree about how the Internet should work in the future, the folks at the FCC who were fighting to ensure equal access for all online would lose pretty much their last big corporate ally. And if that happens, lots of consumer advocates think that they’re in a position to get rolled.
Ryssdal: Steve Henn in Silicon Valley for us talking about net neutrality and Google and Verizon and things that might be changing. Steve, thanks a lot.
Henn: Sure thing.
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