Google favours hands-off internet

GoogleWhat does side of the net neutrality debate does Google really support?

That was the question raised in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ), although Google’s Washington-based Telecom and Media Counsel Rick Whitt reaffirmed the company’s support for net neutrality in his blog posting rebuttal.

The WSJ article suggests that support for net neutrality may be softening as companies understand more about the realities of delivering quality to users.

Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have withdrawn quietly from a coalition formed two years ago to protect network neutrality. Each company has forged partnerships with the phone and cable companies. In addition, prominent Internet scholars, some of whom have advised President-elect Barack Obama on technology issues, have softened their views on the subject.

So where does Google stand on the issue of imposing net neutrality regulations?

Last week, I looked at some of the comments filed in the CRTC’s New Media proceeding.

Let’s return to Google’s comments, in part because the submission provides wonderful evidence of the emergence of diverse Canadian new media content and also because the company appears to endorse a vision of the internet that keeps regulators at bay. It is understandable that the WSJ is finding it tough to follow Google’s position.

Google’s filing with the CRTC includes examples of Canada’s presence on YouTube that should serve as notice to those who rely on traditional handouts that there is already a vibrant Canadian production presence in new media, without having waited for incentives.

I cited one quote from Google’s 20 page submission last Wednesday, but I left out the last two sentences from that paragraph, which may be relevant to the WSJ discussion. So let me repeat this quote from Google, emphasizing those last two sentences:

Without regulation the Canadian broadcasting policy objectives have been, and will continue to be, implemented on the Internet. The New Media Exemption is the best regulatory approach to keeping the Internet awesome. It should remain in place without change. It should not be varied, removed, replaced, or supplemented with regulation. [emphasis added]

Catch that? Google is not asking to vary, remove, replace or supplement current internet regulation – presumably, not even supplementing with net neutrality legislation.

Google continues a few paragraphs later with a further endorsement of how the internet has succeeded without regulation.

New and evolving tools put the power to easily and inexpensively create and disseminate legal content in the hands of users. All this has been made possible by creators experimenting with Internet business models, without regulation influencing their development.

Which begs the question of why, in the context of net neutrality, Google so often appears to be asking for regulation that might prevent experimentation by ISP’s with various business models. Google uses a footnote in its submission that is a little confusing:

In this submission, Google uses the term “access” to mean the ability of Internet users to view, hear, and find content, and not network neutrality issues.

Google defines the access issue as one that appears to largely be covered by existing non-discrimination regulations and rational business behavior:

So long as the broadband “on ramps” to the Internet remain open to all, and the broadband providers themselves supply sufficient capacity to support robust Internet access, the Internet can serve as an important content distribution platform.

Other parties, such as Primus, address this point in submissions, noting that the Sections 27(2) and 36 of Telecom Act ensure that internet-based content will continue to be widely and easily available.

As Google says in its submission, why would we want regulation to inhibit experimenting with Internet business models?

So, is the WSJ correct that Google may be softening its stance on new net neutrality regulation?

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