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Google’s net neutrality case fails to convince

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Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 9:21 pm

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Google’s net neutrality case fails to convince

As protests against Google’s changing position on net neutrality mount online (here, here and here) and at the company’s Mountain View campus, it’s worth parsing the search giant’s official response.

Written by Richard Whitt, the company’s  Washington Telecom and media counsel, the blog post purports to debunk “myths” about the company’s joint “policy framework,” developed with Verizon, for net neutrality.

The fact that these “myths” have gained currency so quickly shows Google did not prepare loyal customers for their policy change.

To complaints that Google “sold out,” Whitt replies, “We had to act.”

“But given political realities, this particular issue has been intractable in Washington for several years now. At this time there are no enforceable protections – at the Federal Communications Commission or anywhere else – against even the worst forms of carrier discrimination against Internet traffic.”

There’s a fair point in here. The failure of the FCC to set forth a clear regulatory framework results in understandable nervousness at Web companies. Google is being pro-active and insists it is open to input from other stake holders. (That’s what this barrage of criticism is: input from stakeholders.)

To complaints that Google has taken a step backwards, Whitt says, “it’s better than nothing.”

But in a break from Google’s past defense of net neutrality, the policy framework would allow for “additional online” services “distinguishable in scope and purpose” from public Internet service. Whitt insists competition and transparency would punish service providers who degraded basic Internet service.

Stacey Higginbotham at Gigaom has a more realistic view: “it doesn’t take a lot to see Verizon angling to protect its ability to profit over its control over its pipes.”

Electronic Freedom Foundation’s says the provision is “troubling.”

As for abandoning the idea of net neutrality on wireless, Whitt pleads short-term technical necessities of network management,  backed up by the long-term by the threat of Congressional intervention.

“Congress would always have the ability to step in and impose new safeguards on wireless broadband providers to protect consumers’ interests.”

But the whole reason Google acted now was because of the inability of Congress to reach agreement on what Internet safeguards should be.

“Fail,” says EFF.

“Neutrality should be the rule for all services, and a distinction between wired and wireless not only defies reason, it also abandons the portion of the Internet that is currently most lacking in openness and neutrality.”

It’s a myth that the agreement would open up the “cannibalization” of the public Internet, claims Whitt. There would be protections in place, he says.

To even adopt the vocabulary of “the public Internet” is ominous, notes Dan Gillmor at Salon.

Whitt’s claim that his deal is not about Google’s Android partnership with Verizon reflects the talking-point mindset of Google management, not engagement with reality. Google has found a level of corporate comfort with Verizon. It’s fairy dust to contend otherwise.

Finally, Whitt denies that Google and Verizon are “legislating the future of the Internet,” a claim that no one is making.

Google and Verizon are lobbying on the future of the Internet and their case isn’t too convincing.

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This post was written by:

Margot Williams

- who has written 49 posts on Inside Google.

Margot Williams has more than two decades of experience in roles as investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting on terrorism in 2002 and for an investigation of the use of deadly force by the District of Columbia police in 1999. Margot is the co-author of “Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web” (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the “Networkings” column in The Washington Post for five years.

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