While Google is still seen as (and proclaims to be) a net neutrality advocate, evidence continues to mount that this is simply no longer the case. Back in 2010 you might recall that Google helped co-write the FCC’s original, flimsy net neutrality rules with the help of folks like AT&T and Verizon — ensuring ample loopholes and making sure the rules didn’t cover wireless at all. When the FCC moved to finally enact notably-tougher neutrality rules for wired and wireless networks earlier this year, Google was publicly mute but privately active in making sure the FCC didn’t seriously address the problems with usage caps and zero-rated (cap exempt) content.
As India has been exploring net neutrality rules it’s again apparent that, if not at least leaning into the anti-neutrality rule camp — Google sure as hell is not helping. Both Google and Facebook have come under fire recently for their zero rating efforts overseas, which include exempting some select partner content from usage caps, and setting up walled garden fiefdoms under the banner of selfless altruism. Critics charge that these plans create vast inequalities in connectivity and violate Internet openness, and that if the companies’ really want to help the poor, they can help subsidize truly open Internet access.
While Facebook has responded to this criticism by insisting that all of its critics are extremists should they dare question Facebook’s noble intentions, Google’s again chosen a more subtle route; staying mute on the subject publicly but quietly working behind the scenes to weaken the final rules:
“Google joined hands with Facebook to try and prevent the Internet and Mobile Association of India, which represents some of the largest Internet companies in India, from taking a stand that counters Zero Rating. According to emails exchanged between IAMAI’s Government Relations committee members, of which MediaNama has copies, Vineeta Dixit, a member of Google’s Public Policy and and Government Relations team, strongly pushed for the removal of any mention of Zero Rating from the IAMAI’s submission, as a response to the Department of Telecom’s report on Net Neutrality. Please note that Google hasn’t responded to our queries, despite multiple reminders…
Apparently Google was preparing to launch its own zero-rated effort in India but put those plans on hold once it saw Facebook taking a public relations beating. And while Google’s been very careful to even avoid having any of its positions on the record, these e-mails show it pushed India’s wireless carriers to make sure they all were on board supporting zero rating:
“Dixit’s email to the IAMAI government relations committee, while reasoning that there is no consensus on Zero Rating, asked for its removal from the submission, saying: “We would like to register strong protest against this formulation and would request you to remove this (Zero Rating) from the submission.”
So yes, this is basically Google’s net neutrality modus operandi now: publicly say as little as possible (while harvesting press and public acclaim for being a net neutrality “supporter”) while privately undermining real neutrality. As we’ve discussed with both AT&T’s sponsored data and T-Mobile’s Music Freedom, such a model gives preferential treatment to larger companies while making life immediately harder for smaller outfits, independents and non-profits. And Google’s ok with that. Worth remembering the next time Google (or a press outlet) proclaims that Google’s still a noble champion on the net neutrality front.