Google being dragged in some unwanted directions

As hype envelopes Google the company can't seem to avoid begin dragged into one rumor or controversy after another.

Last year, the company was rumored to be preparing a package of services to steal the productivity applications market out from under Microsoft. A few weeks ago, the rumor mill had Google developing its own PC. While it made for interesting reading, nothing came to pass with Google building out nothing more than its red-hot successful ad-supported content network.

Now the company finds itself fighting a subpoena of its search records and it is being dragged into a telecom debate that has providers such as BellSouth and Verizon pressing for companies such as Google to help share the cost of operating broadband networks by paying for the right to transmit their content, especially bandwidth hogging applications. The issue is called network neutrality and in essence it is a toll on Internet users.

On Thursday, BellSouth CTO Bill Smith reiterated to CBS MarketWatch that companies should pay for the privilege of using companies broadband pipes.

Network World columnist Scott Bradner wrote in his column this week, "In most situations this is called extortion, but the phone companies are asking us to believe that it's a service improvement."

So far, the feds do not agree that it would be an improvement. In March last year, Madison River Communications took the issue into its own hands by blocking Vonage traffic, an act that netted a US$15,000 fine from the FCC.

Two weeks ago, Google finally got pulled too far into the muck for its liking when Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said that his company was talking to Google about Internet fees, a conversation that Google denies.

In a statement, the company said it is not discussing the issue of sharing the costs of broadband networks with any carrier. "We believe consumers are already paying to support broadband access to the Internet through subscription fees and, as a result, consumers should have the freedom to use this connection without limitations," the company said.

Meanwhile a national survey released this week by the Consumer Federation of America showed that a majority of people support legislation to keep Internet access freely available. Many fear fees could create an Internet of haves and have-nots, with the wealthiest of service providers controlling the Internet.

Google's shining star was first dragged into this debate last year when than AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre highlighted his push to collect fees by criticizing Google and VoIP provider Vonage.

The statements and the prevailing attitude of telecom providers prompted Google to hire Alan Davidson as its first Washington policy counsel in June to help combat the herd of lobbyists in Washington that work for the telecom industry.

Davidson has said that the issue is about no less than the future of the Internet.

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John Fontana

Network World (US online)
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