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This is why, over the past several years, the Internet search giant has used its financial clout and the strength of its brand to make regular forays into the telecommunications industry. From lobbying for network neutrality legislation to developing its own mobile phone and operating system to creating an experimental high-speed broadband network, Google hasn't been shy about throwing its weight around on the carriers' turf.
And what does Google want from all this? Essentially it wants to give carriers less control over what they can and cannot do with their networks. For instance, one goal of the Android platform was to get the carriers to be less strict about what applications and content they will allow to run over their wireless networks. Net neutrality, meanwhile, will prevent carriers from giving priority to their own content over the content of rival ISPs and Internet companies.
Here we take a look at Google's major telecom initiatives while breaking down their overarching goals and the level of success they have achieved.
Purpose: Google isn't fighting this particular battle alone as several Internet companies and consumer groups have been advocating for net neutrality rules over the past five years. The push for net neutrality began in 2005, when incumbent telecom carriers successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to repeal common carrier rules that required the incumbents to allow ISPs such as EarthLink to buy space on their broadband networks at discount rates. Both the Web companies and the consumer groups feared that this would lead to a small handful of large ISPs consolidating power over Internet access, thus giving them the power to slow or degrade competitors' traffic.
Or as Harold Feld, the senior vice president for the open media advocacy group Media Access Project, explained to Network World last year, "Before 2005 we didn't need [net neutrality] because we had a separation rule where carriers had to sell access to their underlying network. AT&T and Verizon were never allowed to touch EarthLink's DSL operation."
So in lieu of bringing back common carrier rules for telcos and cable companies, the Web companies began pushing for net neutrality regulations as the next-best solution. Broadly speaking, net neutrality is the principle that ISPs should not be allowed to block or degrade Internet traffic from their competitors in order to speed up their own. The major telcos have uniformly opposed net neutrality by arguing that such government intervention would take away ISPs' incentives to upgrade their networks, thus stalling the widespread deployment of broadband Internet.
Results: As far as Google is concerned, so far, so good. Last fall FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed two new rules to commission policy that would bar carriers from blocking or degrading lawful Web traffic and that would force carriers to be more open about their traffic management practices. The battle isn't yet over, however, as both Verizon and AT&T have been actively fighting final commission approval of the two rules. The carriers have argued that restricting their ability to favor certain content and to create tiered services would take away their financial incentives to invest in network upgrades. Additionally, the carriers have successfully lobbied several politicians, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, to try to block the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules before they are even voted on by the commission.