What Do Borat And Google Have In Common?

The fictitious character Borat, a satirical creation of the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, may not appear to have much in common with the search giant Google. But Borat's fate -- to have his Web site taken offline on the...

January 23, 2006

2 Min Read
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The fictitious character Borat, a satirical creation of the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, may not appear to have much in common with the search giant Google. But Borat's fate -- to have his Web site taken offline on the behest of the Kazakhstan government -- tells us something about what the future of the Internet may look like. Cohen's Borat character is a uncouth, fifth-rate Kazakh journalist, who hilariously exposes people's prejudices with his coarse behavior. To see him getting all the customers in a Country-and-Western bar happily singing, "Throw the Jew down the well so my country can be free!" is chilling, horrifying, and outrageously funny.

But the government of Kazakhstan has not been amused. Borat had a Kazakh Web site, www.borat.kz, and the government forced it off the Web. Borat, it said, was harming the "international image of Kazakhstan," and the Web site was guilty of "unconscientious usage." The site, though, is live again, at a different URL.

What does this have to do with Google and the future of the Internet? Plenty. In the U.S. the dangers to the Internet's freedom don't come from the government. Instead, it comes from big Telcos like BellSouth and Verizon, which are trying to force sites like Google and others to pay up if they want adequate bandwidth for their sites. If they don't pay, they'll get lower bandwidth than their competitors.

This won't force sites off the Web, but as a practical matter, it may ultimately amount to the same thing. Deny a Web site adequate bandwidth, and give plenty of bandwidth to its competitors, and in effect, you'll kill the site. This is especially true for startups, which won't be able to afford to pay the fees demanded by big Telcos.

Google has said it won't pay this kind of cyberextortion, but apparently other Web sites are negotiating to pay up.The practice should be made illegal. There's not a great deal of difference between a site being forced offline by an authoritarian government or by sleazy business practices. So let's hope Congress or the FCC takes action, or else the commercial equivalent of Kazakh authoritarianism will come to the Web in the U.S.

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