Google and Verizon were clearly taken aback by the level of opposition to their joint net neutrality plan announced on August 9. Google, clearly depending on its previous status as an Internet good guy and buoyed by its 'Don't be Evil' corporate motto, was obviously unprepared for the level of mistrust and even anti-Google sentiment that emerged almost immediately after the joint proposal was issued by the two companies.
Because of this lack of preparation, as well as a lack of clarity at the time of the announcement, it wasn't obvious to most people that what Google and Verizon were announcing was a framework for Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and that this wasn't intended to be a decision by the two companies on how they planned to divide the Internet between them. Unfortunately, because of this lack of preparation, an awful lot of people took it exactly that way.
Since then, Google's and Verizon's CEOs have co-authored an Op-Ed in The Washington Post, and now they've released a myth-busting document called 'Facts about Our Network Neutrality Policy Proposal,' as a part of Google's public policy blog, which raises what the company sees as common myths and misconceptions about its plans for net neutrality.
While I don't think the posting really answers the most pressing questions about the Google-Verizon proposal, it's a good start. But it hardly goes far enough. At this point, the two parties in this proposal, Google and Verizon, have done more to confuse the issue than to enlighten people. Even the current posting is not written for the people who make up most of the opposition. It doesn't really answer the questions about whether there will be a multi-tiered Internet with the really good stuff reserved for those who can afford it, for example. And it doesn't really answer the fears about the discrimination between the wired and the wireless Internet.
If Google and Verizon really expect to get a significant level of public support for their proposal, they need to go to the grassroots and explain exactly what they mean. More important, they need to explain it in terms that matter to the people with the most to lose. How will this affect the people who feel that they are marginalized by today's economy? How will it work to bring more Internet services to poor and rural communities rather than less? How will it bring decent levels of service to small businesses as well as large ones?
Issuing a statement from their respective public policy blogs is hardly the answer. First, the statements aren't particularly clear, and second, they probably aren't reaching the people who need to see them the most.
Instead, if Google and Verizon plan to get enough public support for their position to get any sort of action in Congress, they'll need grassroots support. Despite their presence in the Internet and all of their money, Congress cares more about votes. Without public support, elected officials don't see votes. When these officials don't see votes, nothing happens.
Nothing, of course, is what's been happening since the concept of net neutrality emerged five or six years ago. If you look back at the news stories I wrote when the first hearings made their way into the halls of Congress, you'll see that the issues haven't changed, the names haven't changed, and the major players are the same. To date, net neutrality has been a dead issue.
It'll take more than public policy blog entries to bring it back to life, it'll take an actual engagement of people involved in the issue at the grassroots level. Yes, it'll be a lot like a political campaign, but then Google and Verizon have entered the realm of politics and they might as well realize it and act accordingly.