UPDATE: Google's saying the WSJ got its intentions wrong. Read more about it here on Between the Lines.
In a stark reversal of the company's support of Net neutrality, Google has approached major cable and phone companies with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content.
According to a report in Sunday's Wall Street Journal, one major cable operator in talks with Google says it has been reluctant so far to strike a deal because of concern that it may violate FCC guidelines on network neutrality.
Similar intentions have been shown by Microsoft and Yahoo, who each recently withdrew from a coalition formed to protect network neutrality to instead forge partnerships with phone and cable companies.
Is Net neutrality at risk of extinction?
The problem motivating such a deal is one of revenue: phone and cable companies believe that Internet content providers should share in their network costs, particularly when Internet traffic is growing by more than 50 percent a year. To do so, the companies need to boost revenue to upgrade their networks.
The answer? Charging companies for a fast lane.
Obviously, the issue is a political and ethical lightning rod: if companies such as Google succeed in negotiating preferential treatment, the "equal," populist Internet could favor wealthy companies and stave off competition from smaller upstarts with more shallow pockets.
On the user end, that means Web sites from smaller companies could take longer to load than those with deep pockets. According to the Journal, a worst-case scenario would allow large companies, such as Comcast, to control both distribution and content -- thus most of what users can access.
Is the freedom of the Internet at stake?
The Journal reports that the Obama administration has professed commitment to network neutrality, but Stanford professor and Net neutrality proponent Lawrence Lessig, recently softened his stance, saying at a conference that content providers should be able to pay for faster service.
Clearly, the decisions of whoever ends up running the FCC will resonate far and wide.
Should companies be able to skip in line? Tell us in TalkBack.
Net neutrality is a hot topic on ZDNet. Here are some recent posts about the issue: