Google, normally a vocal critic of threats to network neutrality, is taking a back seat to the Open Internet Coalition in the wake of a court's decision to let Comcast regulate its network as it sees fit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled April 6 that the FCC did not have the authority to order Comcast to stop throttling BitTorrent traffic. Ironically, this could push Google to be more aggressive in building out these networks as an alternative to pipes controlled by Comcast, Verizon and the rest of the incumbents.
Anyone looking for Google to publicly complain about the ruling
that limits the Federal Communications Commission's authority to tell network
operators how to manage their networks shouldn't hold their breath. The Open
Internet Coalition is speaking for the search engine giant.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
ruled April 6 that the FCC did not have
the authority to order Comcast to stop throttling BitTorrent traffic and that Comcast
could regulate Internet traffic over its own system. The FCC in 2008 had
complained that Comcast and other Internet providers must treat content that traverses
their pipes equally. Comcast took the FCC to the court and won.
This was a resounding blow to FCC network neutrality
principles that prohibit broadband providers from blocking users from accessing
and sharing lawful content and applications from any devices.
Google has been a loud proponent of network neutrality. The
company fears Internet service providers and network operators exert too much
control over the data that flows through their network pipes, which in turn
impacts Google services such as search, video from YouTube and Google Apps such
So it would stand to reason that Google would have a strong
reaction to the court's ruling in favor of Comcast, a decision that skewers the
net neutrality ethos Google holds so dear. But when asked for comment about the
situation, a Google spokesperson declined to comment on the record and directed
eWEEK to the Open Internet Coalition.
Google, along with Facebook, Twitter and dozens of other
companies, is a member of this coalition, which argues that "broadband
networks should be open to all producers and consumers of Internet content on
fair and equal terms." The coalition
blasted the court's decision to side with Comcast in a statement April 6.
OIC Executive Director Markham Erickson told eWEEK April
7 this decision creates a void where broadband Internet access providers are no
longer accountable to abide by the FCC's Internet policy statement, which lets
consumers access lawful content of their choosing on devices of their choosing.
"It's a universally regarded norm for how the
Internet is supposed to work," Erickson said, adding that this statement
was put in place as a governing tool so that there would be recourse if access
providers engaged in anticompetitive behavior and blocked access to sites.
"Right now there is no ability under the current
legal regime for a consumer, or a startup company or an Internet company to
serve a complaint to the FCC should a Comcast, for example, decide to favor one Internet
site over another Internet site," Erickson said.
He also lamented the impact of the court's decision on
the FCC's National Broadband Plan, which could now grind to a halt. The FCC is
scrambling to adapt its National Broadband Plan because it believes the ruling
impedes plans to accelerate broadband access and adoption in rural America and
connecting low-income Americans, among other recommendations.
Make no mistake. Google's lead net neutrality officials are
quietly fuming about the court's decision, even if they aren't going on the
record about it.
Google is so concerned about the tight control Comcast,
Verizon, AT&T and other network operators wield over their networks that it
is in the process of setting up high-speed broadband networks.
What the court's decision is telling Google is that it
needs to have its own networks if it wants to control the flow of the data in
Ironically, this could push Google, which many believe is already too big
for its britches, to be more aggressive in building out these networks as an
alternative to pipes controlled by Comcast, Verizon and the rest of the
If Google builds these networks, will people come? Apparently,
yes, at least where it's free. Communities all over the United States are vying for Google's fiber to the home
experiment, which will be free for the winning community.