What Google really wants from net neutrality

Getty Images file photoMotives: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt once said that the company wants to promote “equal access” to the Internet

‘Net neutrality,” which supporters say will keep the Internet free, is actually a plan making it more expensive for many of us. One of the biggest drivers of Net neutrality has been Google, the Internet behemoth. Its goal is to keep its own operational costs lower by trying to make Internet usage more costly for others.

Type “Net neutrality” and “Google” into a search engine and the first thing you are likely to find is this, part of a 2006 statement from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

“Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody — no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional — has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.”

Sounding the clarion call of the Internet populist, Google purports to want everyone to be treated fairly. But here’s the real story: Google just doesn’t want to have to pay for the bandwidth it uses relative to other entities and content providers; it wants other people to pay more so Google can pay less.

In the old days, this was called the “bait and switch” argument, and, in more than a few places, it’s a discredited and unethical business practice. In the name of the little guy, the Internet’s biggest elbows are shelling money out all around Washington in order to get their way.

At the heart of the debate, according to siliconrepublic.com blog, is the question: “Who will pay for the cost of delivering the digital networks if operators are faced with ever-diminishing returns and Internet giants reap all the rewards?” There are big stakes involved — not to mention the future of the Internet itself.

What Google wants is what many big companies want: favorable action by the federal government to make other entities pay at least part of their costs of doing business, which in this case are the phone and cable companies that enable everyone to hook up to the Net.

The company felt the need to post a statement on its public policy blog insisting it continued to be one of the good guys. “Google has been the leading corporate voice on the issue of network neutrality over the past five years,” it said. “No other company is working as tirelessly for an open Internet.”

“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.”

But given the huge amounts of money at stake, there are lots of reasons to be suspicious of what Google is doing. Net neutrality is just one reason — but it’s a big one.

George Landrith is executive director of Frontiers for Freedom.

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