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12/28/2007
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Just How Neutral is the Net? Not Very.

How large ISPs are squeezing the little guy harder than ever by hijacking searches and reporting questionable traffic metrics, which in turn drives up online advertising rates

In early November, consumeraffairs.com reported that when Verizon customers using the company's fiber-optic Internet service (FiOS) mistyped a Web site address, they were redirected to Verizon's own search engine page -- even if they don't have it set as their default.

The practice, which is neither new nor uncommon, has various groups questioning whether or not companies, such as Verizon, are complying with the Internet's spirit of network neutrality.

The seemingly obvious answer to that question is no. As the Internet has matured, competition among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) has intensified. Potential profits from supplying items, even like broadband access, have been eroding. During the past few years fueled largely because of the tremendous success of Google, search and search advertising have become the industry's hot growth areas.

These avenues are driven mainly by numbers: the more folks clicking on page or links; the more revenue generated by the service provider. So is it surprising that these companies would be tempted to tilt the paying field a bit, so it becomes more likely that their pages show up in front of business persons and consumers? Only the nave would say, "Yes."

In fact, Verizon has not been clandestine about its intention. In June, the company announced them as part of a test program for its FiOS services. Customers living in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, had their pages rerouted. The company dubbed its services Advanced Web Search (sounds nice, doesn't it?) and noted that no software would be loaded onto customers' computers nor would the company collect any personally identifiable information in connection with the service.

The company also provided an opt out function, but critics charge that such functions are not effective. (For mysterious reasons, it does seem that someone opts in once but somehow ends up on multiple mailing lists, and the process of removing oneself from all of these lists seems to be exponentially more difficult than getting on them.)

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