Telcos Target Google in ‘Neutrality’ Fight

The latest round in the battle over net neutrality has started, and as usual the telcos have their game plan sussed out and in widespread, synchronized action. The message? Google is bad, and wants to control the Internet to keep its cash pile growing. Telcos, meanwhile, just want to innovate, so please don’t write laws keeping them from doing so.

Sometimes this message is blatant, as David Isenberg notes in a recent post about a speech given by Verizon’s general counsel, William Barr.

According to Isenberg, Barr hit many of the main telco vs. Google points: Google has more market cap than we do, Google and other Internet players hired a lot of lobbyists, and because of Google’s success, it has more control over the Internet than those who own and operate the routers. Said Barr:

Google is the gateway on the Internet, because it stands between you and the stuff you want to find. It has more of a choke hold than [Verizon].

You expect that kind of stuff from the telcos, who are great at lobbying, and know how to effectively spin messages that aren’t necessarily true. But facts aren’t really important in opinion battles like this, and Google is a good target for several reasons.

  • Google is still naive when it comes to navigating Capitol Hill, and we’re not sure if they learned any lessons from last year’s debacles;
  • Google’s stratospheric stock price, arrogance and new-age foofiness makes them easy to pick on;
  • Google’s overwhelming monopoly in search makes it easy for telcos to compare Google’s gatekeeping ability to telcos’ network access infrastructure (even though one was built by monopoly fief and taxpayer subsidies, and the other through open competition);

From there you get the new argument: If Google wants network neutrality, why aren’t they offering search neutrality?

Telco water-carrier Mike Volpi, the general manager of Cisco’s service provider business, dedicated a long portion of his speech at the company’s December analyst conference to this point, even putting up slides with Google search pages showing that Google charges more for preferential ad treatment. You might ask, what does that have to do with packet-sniffing and router-based control of your Internet consumption? Nothing, but nobody’s asking those questions.

It’s not a coincidence that everyone on the telco side of the fence is making similar arguments. This is called good lobbying, and it’s the kind of thing you can do when you are prepared to spend multiple millions — somewhere between $44 million and $68 million last summer, according to various sources — to fight a battle you want to win.

As the FCC’s final decision on the AT&T/BellSouth merger showed, net neutrality proponents are still scattered and disorganized, many not sure if they won or not (they didn’t) in the deal.

Meanwhile, there is also an emerging trend of net-head techno experts weighing in, and while they aren’t taking the telco side per se, they are more afraid of Congress messing with technology than they are of telco pricing pressure. (Bob Kahn, one of the inventors of the TCP/IP protocol and one of the Internet’s founding fathers, has also in the past called for open-access last-mile networks. But don’t expect to see the telcos trumpet that idea on their lobbying blogs anytime soon.)

The upshot at this point in time? Even with NN proponents like Ed Markey and Ron Wyden in positions of power in Congress, expect tough sledding for any specific net neutrality legislation anytime soon. And expect to hear a whole lot more about how bad ol’ Google just wants to make money off the Internet without paying for it.

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