Google Rebuts Charges of Net Neutrality Sellout

By Kenneth Corbin | Aug 16, 2010 | Print this Page
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The past week has been replete with criticism and commentary surrounding Google's proposal of a compromise policy framework with Verizon Communications to settle the matter of network management and enact binding, if watered-down, net neutrality rules.

For Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), long the most visible corporate champion of the open Internet, much of that scorn has come from advocacy groups it has worked closely with on various campaigns in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission.

Now, facing down all manner of accusations from progressive policy advocates who feel like Google has sold out the net neutrality cause, the company's telecom counsel, Rick Whitt, penned a lengthy "fact sheet" looking to set the record straight about just how much Google gave away by teaming with Verizon.

"Google has been the leading corporate voice on the issue of network neutrality over the past five years. No other company is working as tirelessly for an open Internet," Whitt said.

"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."

What Google actually suggested was similar to a proposal that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski first outlined nearly a year ago. Google and Verizon described a framework for legislation that would direct the FCC to enact a rule prohibiting discrimination against certain types of Internet traffic on wireline networks.

But in allying with a longstanding opponent of net neutrality rules, Google brokered a compromise that left hard-line advocates crying foul. Specifically, the proposed legislative framework would call for wireless providers to adhere to a transparency rule that would require them to make disclosures about how they manage their networks, but stop short of explicit nondiscrimination rules.

"It's true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services," Whitt said. "However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye."

That was small solace to the coalition of groups that includes Free Press and MoveOn.org that have been collecting signatures for a petition calling on Google to resist any compromise with the telcos on net neutrality. Those groups staged a protest on Friday at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

They are pressing the FCC to move ahead with a controversial proposal to reclassify broadband service under communications law that would give it clearer authority to impose net neutrality protections outside of action in Congress. That effort has drawn opposition from the cable and telecommunications industries, and more than half the members of the House and Senate have signed their names to letters to the FCC urging it to defer to Congress on the matter.

Key lawmakers have convened meetings with stakeholders across the Internet and telecom industries, as well as representatives of think tanks and advocacy groups, in an effort to find common ground that could fast-track legislation to clarify the FCC's role in the broadband sector, which was called into question following a federal appeals court ruling earlier this year.

But amid escalating rhetoric on both sides of the issue, Google's Whitt argued that the politics surrounding the debate have led to a dead end. In that sense, he defended the joint proposal with Verizon as a pragmatic compromise rather than any sort of business deal, and urged other stakeholders to come to the table.

"Our two companies are proposing a legislative framework to the Congress for its consideration," he said. "We're not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could -- or should -- decide the future of this issue. We're simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years."

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.