News that Google and Verizon are negotiating a deal to “jump the Internet line,” as the New York Times put it in a great headline, shocked people who’ve been following the Net neutrality story and upset many of Google’s true believers. Google has long been one of Net neutrality’s most reliable big-company backers.
Net neutrality — the principle that information traveling across the Internet should be treated equally by the backbone carriers that keep the packets flowing — made sense for Google’s search-and-ad business: Keep the Internet a level playing field so it keeps growing and stays open to the Googlebot. It also helped keep people from snickering too loudly at the company’s “don’t be evil” mantra.
So why would Google turn around now, at a time when the FCC is weighing exactly how to shape the future of Net neutrality regulation, and signal a course-change toward, um, evil?
Here are the obvious explanations: Google wants to speed YouTube bits to your screen. Google is in bed with Verizon thanks to Android. Google figures neutrality is never going to remain in place so get a jump on the competition.
None of these quite persuades me. But what if — here is where I pause to tell you this is total speculation on my part — it’s a fake-out? What if Google — or some portion of Google — is still basically behind the Net neutrality principle but realizes that very few people understand the issue or realize what’s at stake? Presumably Google and Verizon, which sells a ton of Android phones, talk all the time. Presumably they talk about Net neutrality-related stuff too.
Maybe someone inside Google who still believes in Net neutrality strategically leaked the fact that they’re negotiating this stuff — knowing the headlines and ruckus would follow. Knowing that this might be a perfect way to dramatize Net neutrality questions and mobilize support for strong Net neutrality rules from the public and for the FCC.
This scenario assumes a level of Machiavellian gameplaying skill on Google’s part that the company has not hitherto displayed. And if the whole story is a feint, it might well not be a strategic move on Google’s part but rather a sign of dissent inside Google, with one faction pushing the Verizon deal and another hoping to blow it up.
Still, worth pondering!
UPDATE: A tweet from Google’s Public Policy: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.” [hat tip to Dan Lyke in comments]