Net neutrality supporters to protest at Google HQ

A Google official defends the company's joint proposal with Verizon

Five left-leaning groups that want the U.S. government to create formal network neutrality rules are organizing a rally to protest a recent proposal by Google and Verizon Communications at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, Friday.

Organizers of the protest, including Free Press and MoveOn.org, hope that it will convince Google, which has long voiced support for net neutrality, to abandon the joint proposal with Verizon. Critics of the Google/Verizon net neutrality proposal have called it a weak alternative to other efforts aiming to prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking Web traffic.

Meanwhile, Google offered a defense of the proposal, released Monday, saying the suggestions do not mean the company is backtracking on its support for net neutrality.

"Google has been the leading corporate voice on the issue of network neutrality over the past five years," Richard Whitt, Google's Washington, D.C., telecom and media counsel, wrote on the company's public policy blog. "No other company is working as tirelessly for an open Internet."

But groups pushing for formal net neutrality rules have made little progress for "several years now," Whitt added.

"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," he said. "With that in mind, we decided to partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together. We're not saying this solution is perfect, but we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all."

Earlier this year, a U.S. appeals court threw out an FCC decision prohibiting Comcast from slowing peer-to-peer traffic, leaving the agency's authority to enforce informal net neutrality principles in doubt.

Whitt's blog post addressed several criticisms of the proposal, including fears that the two companies are trying to impose their will on the rest of the U.S.

"Our two companies are proposing a legislative framework to the Congress for its consideration," he wrote. "We hope all stakeholders will weigh in and help shape the framework to move us all forward. We're not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could -- or should -- decide the future of this issue."

Organizers of the rally at Google's headquarters are urging the FCC to "not let Google be evil," in form letters circulating since Google and Verizon released their proposal.

"People are upset because we've seen what happens when we let big companies regulate themselves or hope they'll do the right thing," says a form letter to the FCC on SavetheInternet.com, a Free Press site focused on net neutrality.

In addition to the letters to the FCC, groups opposing the Google/Verizon proposal have targeted Google with petitions. Since Aug. 5, after news reports of a Google and Verizon deal on net neutrality, more than 300,000 people have signed petitions calling on Google to abandon any agreement with Verizon, Free Press officials said.

Organizers of the rally, at noon PST on Friday, aren't sure how many people to expect, said Liz Rose, a Free Press spokeswoman.

Critics of the Verizon/Google proposal say it would exempt wireless broadband and managed services from net neutrality rules. With managed services exempted, broadband providers may pump all their investment to these private networks instead of the public Internet, critics said.

The proposal also calls on Congress to prohibit the FCC from creating additional net neutrality rules, and it suggests that Internet community organizations should first attempt to resolve net neutrality disputes before the FCC acts. The proposal would allow the FCC to levy US$2 million fines for serious net neutrality violations.

"The Google-Verizon plan would create two separate, unequal sections of the Internet -- a high-speed and exclusive fast lane for big business, and a slow lane, the 'public Internet' that would be available to the rest of us," wrote Josh Levy, Free Press' online campaign manager, in an invitation to the Google rally. "The Internet would become like cable TV, with a limited number of websites controlled by big media corporations. Free speech online could become a thing of the past."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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