Google Still Dodges Questions on Wireless Net Neutrality

Carl Weinschenk

It is possible that Google has the public's best interests at heart in the agreement it struck last week with Verizon. As I pointed out last week, however, a corporation has significant legal and fiduciary responsibilities and has a responsibility to look out for the best interests of its owners, employees and customers. Those interests often contradict the interest of the public at large.


Therefore, I reasoned, Google's position on net neutrality and its agreement with Verizon should be considered objectively within the company's desire to be socially responsible and optimize profits. The conflicts must be seen in real-world terms. That's a polite way of saying the company inevitably will de-emphasize its ideological positions, at least to some extent.


The clearest example of this in the Verizon/Google proposal is in wireless, the hottest area of telecom. On Thursday, Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, posted a blog responding to the criticism of the Verizon/Google agreement. At Broadband Report, Karl Bode helpfully traces the "evolution" of Whitt's thinking since 2007.


The section of Whitt's post aimed at wireless doesn't explain much.


The first point Whitt raises is that the wireless market is more competitive than the wired because users generally have more than two providers from which to choose. That's true. But it is important to note that wireless coverage still is spotty. Third, fourth and fifth choices often are significantly less attractive than the top two, especially in rural areas.


Whitt's next point is that the constrained nature of wireless communications requires more active management. The implication is that this somehow makes wireless net neutrality difficult or impossible. There is no conflict between legitimate bandwidth management and meaningful wireless net neutrality.


The final point is that "network and device openness is now beginning to take off as a significant business model in this space." This shouldn't preclude efforts to create meaningful wireless net neutrality, unless there is a blind assumption that this active marketplace will drive carriers to provide subscribers with some sort of de facto net neutrality. Perhaps it will. That is, however, quite a leap of faith -- especially in an era of failed marketplace self-regulation.


The suggestion is that these points justify a wait-and-see attitude. They are crammed into a single paragraph and, consequently, are vague and form a weak pushback against the critics.


It is impossible to say precisely what agenda is driving a corporate decision. Again-as it did in last week's post-the term "disingenuous" comes to mind. Though it is possible a reality emerges in which net neutrality isn't needed, it makes sense to act aggressively when the issue is front and center for the public and regulators. This is particularly true in the current environment, since expected Republican gains in November will make it less likely that wireless net neutrality will be revisited later if it is bypassed now.

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