Google disses criticisms of net neutrality deal as "myth"

Google has responded extremely defensively to criticism of its net neutrality deal with Verizon, dismissing a number of views expressed on the matter as “myth”.

“We don’t expect everyone to agree with every aspect of our proposal,” said Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel at Google, on Google’s Public Policy blog. He added that “there has been a number of inaccuracies” touted by people, which de classed as “fiction”.

In what was probably intended to quell the monumental backlash to Google’s recent announcement, Whitt posted an apologetic detailing how Google had not sold out, that this was not a step backwards for an open Internet, that this did not hinder net neutrality for wireless, and various other things that Google has been criticised for over the last few days.

In response to accusations that Google had sold out, Whitt said: “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.” It was, in fact, one of 24 big tech companies to come together in 2009 to voice approval of the FCC’s net neutrality plans. Things have since changed, however, with some of those companies now turning on Google over its decision to go it alone with Verizon.

Instead of selling out, Whitt said that inaction in Washington forced Google to make a proposal “that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers”, saying that it is “preferable to no protection at all.”

Defending against the charge that the proposal represents a step backwards for the open Internet, Whitt said that this is not true, but rather that if the porposal was accepted and adopted it would “give the FCC the ability to preserve the open Internet through enforceable rules on broadband providers,” while prohibitting the FCC from imposing regulations on the Internet itself.

He said that the proposal would give the FCC clear authority, allow full transparency across wireline and wireless broadband platforms, and prohibit discrimination against and blocking of wireline Internet traffic. However, all of these appear very much in Google’s favour, so it can hardly be said to be a neutral party on the matter or acting for the benefit of others over itself.

In regards to Verizon, Whitt revealed that it “has agreed to voluntarily abide by these same requirements going forward,” which he said was a first for a major communications provider.

Responding to allegations that the proposal would eliminate wireless net neutrality, Whitt said that Google was forced to “compromise”, dropping its previous advocacy for “openess safeguards” to be applied to wireless networks also.

He cited the reasons for the change of heart as being that the wireless market is more competitive, that it employs airwaves instead of wires and carriers “need to manage their networks more actively”, and network and device openess is an important business model in this area. All the more reason for net neutrality regulations, but clearly Verizon was a deciding factor in Google’s “compromise”.

Whitt said that the porposal includes a requirement for the Federal government to monitor and report on the broadband market, but that is a far cry from the full net neutrality regulations the search giant has been calling for before. Considering wireless connections are becoming increasingly more common, and that 4G technology is set to take the market by storm, it seems unwise to have one rule for wireline broadband and another, or no rule, for wireless.

Whitt said that there is a myth that the proposal will allow broadband providers to cannabilise the public Internet, but he said that while the porposal allows for providers to offer specialised private internet channels for gaming or banking, for example, there are a number of protections in place to protect the public Internet.

He said that the provider must comply fully with consumer protection and non-discrimination standards governing the private Internet channels before putting them into action. They must also be  “distinguishable in purpose and scope” from the public Internet, so as not to supplant it. Finally, they will be monitored by the FCC. This may not be enough, however, to quash fears that the Internet may be torn apart, with each bit firmly in the hands of a private owner.

Whitt said that this is ultimately only a policy proposal, “not a business deal” with Verizon, which was one of the biggest criticisms many had. He said that this has “nothing to do with Android” and that Google has worked with Verizon on public policies before, as early as October of last year, so people “should not be surprised.”

Finally he said that this is also not about two corporations legislating the future of the Internet. He said that this is merely a proposal and that Google is “not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could – or should – decide the future of this issue.” He said it’s up to Congress, the FCC, other policymakers, and the American public to “take it from here”.

The fact that Google needed to write such a lengthy apologetic reveals how little prepared it was for this backlash against it. Many are now touting Google’s former catchphrase of “Don’t be evil”, saying it has betrayed its principles. It might have been wiser to let the FCC come up with the proposal and then back it rather than placing the Google stamp on every page.