Remember Occupy Google, the gaggle of protesters whose struggle for a Free Internet involved trying to squat on a chunk of Google HQ’s vast manicured lawn?
They were a somewhat confused bunch of kids trying to do right in our incredibly confused era, and doing right meant demanding that Google, the mega-corporation, defend net neutrality with more vigor than they seemed to be showing. What made it all weirder was that they insisted they were not there to protest Google, but rather, to sort of nudge Google to do the People’s work — and the Occupy Googlers maintained this position even after the real Google had them arrested and hauled off to jail for trespassing on their property.
And in case they didn’t get Google’s love letter telling them that if they want to protest the real power here, they should be protesting Google — then maybe this latest development will wake folks up.
Yesterday, a report in Bloomberg demonstrated what a lot of us (including the Occupy Googlers) have been sensing for awhile now, but is now proven fact: Google has all but abandoned its once-vigorous battle for an Open Internet:
Google Inc. (GOOG), once boastful that it was the leading defender of a free and open Internet, has gone into the shadows.
Since the Federal Communications Commission proposed in May to let cable and telephone companies offer special Internet fast lanes for companies willing to pay extra, lobbyists for Google haven’t visited the agency to intervene, FCC records show. Facebook Inc. (FB), the largest social network, also has been absent.
It’s a stark change from eight years ago, when Google ran advertisements that called for treating all Web traffic equally, asked its users to contact senators on the issue and dispatched co-founder Sergey Brin to Washington to lobby lawmakers.
“They’ve definitely faded into the background, and that’s very troubling,” said Paul Sieminski, general counsel of San Francisco-based Automattic Inc., the publisher of the WordPress blogging platform. “A lot of tech companies look to Google.”
So Google’s been quietly retreating from the Open Internet battlefield, careful not to draw too much attention to itself as it abandons all the suckers who believed, and readjusts its strategy to its corporate interests.
Naturally that’s bumming out a lot of pro-neutrality netizoids.
“Net neutrality got them where they are,” Timothy Wu, a Columbia University law professor who coined the word “net neutrality” and is now running for Lt. Gov of New York, told Bloomberg. “There’s a danger that they, having climbed the ladder, might pull it up after them.”
Back in 2006, Eric Schmidt issued a passionate call for people to join Google in the fight against evil phone and cable companies!
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.
So what’s up? Why has Google now abandoned its fight for Internet equality?
The Bloomberg article seemed a bit unsure of the reasons. It pointed to some strategic business partnerships Google’s been developing with telecom companies, including an Android mobile deal with Verizon in 2009. Shortly after that, Google and Verizon came out with a memorandum of understanding agreeing to deregulate Internet telecommunication and ISPs even more. While it called for equal treatment of traffic, it carved out a space for unregulated pay-to-play prioritized access and totally exempted wireless networks from any kind of regulation altogether.
But there’s another reason why Google’s is aligning itself with the interests of the once-hated ISPs. Google plans on being one of them. And in many ways, it already is.
There’s Google Fiber — which is small but continuously expanding. And all sorts of other ISP projects on the horizon, including Project Loon, a global WiFi network powered by hundreds of balloons circling the globe at an altitude of 60,000 ft. Google envisions Loon delivering (and surveilling) Internet connectivity in rural areas as well as urban zones. And they’re even playing around with letting mobile phones connect to them directly through LTE technologies, which would essentially allow Google to compete against existing cellular monopolies like AT&T and Verizon.
The last thing that Google needs is for its aggressive expansion projects to fall under Title II the Communications Act, which would give the FCC full commie authority to regulate ISPs (and Google) like the public utilities that they are. It could happen via a rather simple reclassification by the FCC. And the agency could do it tomorrow morning, if it wasn’t stacked with sleazy revolving door ISP lobbyists. Google knows this, and fears it.