Google’s political head-fake

Here are a few excerpts from my piece in today’s San Francisco Chronicle on Google’s net neutrality trickery:

The devil’s best trick is to persuade us that he doesn’t exist, but Google only has to convince us that it’s not evil. Nearing an agreement with Yahoo to grab the ailing company’s search business, Google scripted a series of dramatic public events apparently designed to distract from the pending deal. These events emphasize network neutrality, an ever-changing regulatory ideal that Google thrust into the political spotlight two years ago. As entertaining as this spectacle is, regulators should not be fooled. They should apply traditional anti-monopoly standards, blocking the Google-Yahoo deal.

The centerpiece of Google’s net neutrality misdirection campaign, a new initiative to bring faster broadband at lower prices to American consumers, was book-ended by Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s visit to Washington and a public endorsement of heavy broadband regulation by Internet pioneer and Google Vice President Vint Cerf. The initiative, Internet for Everyone, is virtually identical to earlier network neutrality organizations, It’s Our Net and Save the Internet. Each of these organizations was fronted by rock-star intellectuals such as Lawrence Lessig, co-founder of the Google-funded Stanford Center for Internet and Society, and his protégé, Tim Wu, the new chairman of the advocacy group Free Press.

Initially, network neutrality was the demand that network carriers ignore the Internet’s fundamental inequality. Google had good reason to advocate this, because it is advantaged by a status quo in which money buys privilege. Any move by carriers to selectively boost speeds for fees dulls the advantage Google has secured for itself by building huge complexes of hundreds of thousands of computers.

These complexes exploit a flaw in Internet architecture that enables them to seize more than their fair share of network bandwidth, effectively giving their owner a fast lane. A richly funded Web site, which delivers data faster than its competitors to the front porches of the Internet service providers, wants it delivered the rest of the way on an equal basis. This system, which Google calls broadband neutrality, actually preserves a more fundamental inequality.

The tech press has been too busy reprising its Internet Bubble era cheerleading and cooing about Google’s network neutrality “idealism” to raise questions about the demise of Yahoo as a search competitor. Fortunately, the Justice Department is investigating, and Congress has planned several hearings, including one today.

Read the whole thing, if you please, and tell me what you think about the argument.

UPDATE: Nice reaction from Om Malik at Gigaom. Also Scott Cleland at Precursor and Hands Off the Internet. Paul Kapustka isn’t very impressed with my reasoning, unfortunately.

Today’s Senate committee testimony is here, and the announcment of next week’s Senate hearing is here and next week’s House hearing is here.

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