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Google Finally Steps Up For Net Neutrality… Sort Of

Google has called on the FCC to maintain net neutrality — but that doesn't erase the company's spotty history on the issue.

by Natasha Lennard
May 9 2014, 12:00am

Photo by Robert Scoble

Along with more than 100 other tech firms, Google this week joined the chorus blasting the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules. In a joint letter to regulators — also signed by Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon — the companies warn against plans for a two-tiered internet, which would enable large (i.e., rich) companies to deliver their content at much higher speeds than smaller competitors.

The plan's many detractors believe the proposal threatens the internet as an open platform by giving preference to the big corporations who can afford it, putting smaller businesses at a distinct disadvantage. The letter to regulators expresses concern that the proposed rules would risk "individualized bargaining and discrimination."

While tech giants like Google are garnering praise for going to bat for net neutrality, skeptical observers have noted a hint of hypocrisy in the company's current stance. Google has previously forged deals with wireless network Verizon that failed to ensure neutrality protections on wireless networks. And as DSLreports noted, "it was Google's draft language [for the letter to regulators] that ensured the rules would be wimpy in the first place…. The letter itself is painfully ambiguous and doesn't recommend a course of action for the FCC outside of taking the 'necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce.'" Essentially, Google appears to be talking a big game while leaving open the sort of loopholes that ensure net neutrality protections are weak.

The tech giant has, as Gizmodo's Adam Clark Estes pointed out, stayed silent on deals and decisions that have worked against net neutrality in the recent past:

Some say that Google's hypocrisy on net neutrality is most noticeable when the company simply didn't say anything at all. For example, Google didn't say a word about AT&T blocking FaceTime over cellular connections, a move that had net neutrality advocates up in arms…. Google stayed silent a few months later, too, when AT&T appeared to be blocking the data stream for Google Hangouts on its network. This came after AT&T folded on its FaceTime blocking and supposedly allowed Hangouts over the cellular network. Again, it was less about what Google did than what it didn't do.

Perhaps it's unfair to disavow Google now that the company has challenged two-tiered internet proposals, even if its statements were somewhat vague and platitudinous. I simply suggest that the internet giant doesn't deserve a hero's praise for its involvement in the campaign. At least not until it steps up the fight.

The FCC's vote on the proposed rules is scheduled for May 15. In the face of powerful and broad opposition, it certainly seems that the vote should be delayed. Tech giants may have their own interests at heart — were you expecting anything else? — but their point is valid: The future of the internet is at stake.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twtter: @natashalennard

Photo via Flickr

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