Google Silent Over Court's Knock to FCC Network Neutrality

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-09

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 Circuit 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 as Gmail. 

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 now 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 them.

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 incumbents.

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.

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