Google Says It Is "Committed" To Net Neutrality

In a blog posting Sunday night, Google’s Telecom and Media Counsel Richard Whitt said that the company remains committed to an open, nondiscriminatory Internet, and he had some backers among groups quick to jump on companies who they believe are not.

"Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open," wrote Whitt. He was responding to an article in the Wall Street Journal about Google's arrangement with cable operators and other ISPs co-locating servers at their headends to make YouTube videos and Web pages load faster.

Whitt argued that improving Web performance through so-called "edge caching"—"temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to end users"—is a common practice, and that none of its agreements is exclusive. He argues that caching "represents one type of innovative network practice encouraged by the open Internet."

Exclusivity is one of the key tests for whether an Internet practice is disciminatory, including for President-elect Barack Obama.

He did say that, by contrast, if an ISP were to "leverage their unilateral control over consumers' connections and offer co-location or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion," Google would definitely have a problem with that.

Net neutrality backer Free Press, for one, was inclined to believe Whitt, but delivered a warning as well.

"We are skeptical that Google is truly engaged in a nefarious plot to undermine the open Internet," said Free Press executive director Josh Silver. “[T]he company denies it, and we look forward to all of the facts coming to light. If Google or any other company is planning to secretly violate Net Neutrality, they will find themselves facing the same vigorous opposition from the Internet community..."

Whitt also said he did not think President-elect Barack Obama had backed off from his support of network neutrality.

"The Journal story quoted me as characterizing President-elect Obama's net neutrality policies as ‘much less specific than they were before,’" wrote Witt. “For what it's worth, I don't recall making such a comment, and it seems especially odd given that President-elect Obama's supportive stance on network neutrality hasn't changed at all."

The Obama administration has close ties with Google. Founder Eric Schmidt was a big supporter and is on Obama’s economic advisory team, for example, while Google executive Sonal Shah is helping develop tech policy for the new administration.

Public Knowledge, another net neutrality fan, was even more supportive of Google, saying, “The effort to achieve an open and non-discriminatory Internet is alive and well in Washington, despite the unfortunate reporting of this morning’s Wall Street Journal. We in the public interest community are pleased to be working closely with our friends in industry, and those friends include Google.

“The practices described in the article, known as ‘caching,’ are commonplace and have been for many years.  Caching in no way is a part of the Net Neutrality issue of preventing discrimination by telephone and cable companies."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.