Google will learn on Thursday whether its last-ditch lobbying has persuaded US regulators to modify plans to ensure all internet traffic is treated equally, after the company warned that part of the proposal was self-defeating.
The Federal Communications Commission, the US telecoms regulator, was due to vote on Thursday on a plan backed by President Barack Obama to ban broadband providers from blocking or prioritising certain websites or apps.
Google has previously fallen in line with most of Silicon Valley by supporting efforts to enshrine the principle of net neutrality in regulation, but in recent days it has mounted an eleventh hour push to get the FCC to adjust its plans.
In a filing, it said the regulator risked encouraging broadband providers to try to charge companies such as Google and Netflix for sending content through their pipes, while the same broadband groups already charge retail customers for internet access.
Such an outcome would defeat the purpose of the net neutrality rules, Google said.
Its effort has revealed cracks in Silicon Valley’s support for the approach taken by Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman who faces stiff opposition from broadband companies such as Comcast and Verizon. He has spent this month negotiating with the regulator’s four other board members over changes to his initial proposal.
Net neutrality centres on the ability of broadband providers to control video streaming and other content delivered to consumers’ screens, but Google’s lobbying is about a different set of relationships: the informal back-end links between broadband providers and content providers.
In a letter to the FCC published this week, a Google lawyer warned regulators against attempting to create a new classification for these back-end relationships, which are mostly unregulated and known in the industry as interconnections or peering.
Austin Schlick, Google’s director of communications law, said that doing so could encourage attempts by broadband providers to charge both content providers and consumers for access to their infrastructure — a practice known as “double recovery”.
“That could do serious, long-term harm to the virtuous circle of internet innovation, thus greatly undermining the benefit of adopting net neutrality rules,” he wrote.
A lobbyist for another big Silicon Valley group said: “Here you see that Google is not the big supporter of net neutrality that everyone thinks it is.”
Noting that Google’s clout enabled it to negotiate favourable interconnection agreements with broadband providers, he said the company was trying to head off the risk of regulators setting the terms of such deals and wiping out its advantage.
Mr Wheeler’s net neutrality plan depends on reclassifying the internet as a public utility. He and two fellow Democrats are expected to approve the proposal on Thursday over the opposition of two Republican commissioners, but it is then likely to become bogged down in legal challenges from big broadband companies.
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