After a long silence, one of the Internet's biggest companies has finally weighed in on the latest net neutrality debate.
On Wednesday, Google said it would oppose efforts by large Internet providers to speed up, slow down or manipulate Internet traffic that their customers request. Although Google has recently spoken out on net neutrality through industry groups and think tanks, this marks the first time since 2010 that Google has staked out an explicit position of its own on the policy.
"If Internet access providers can block some services and cut special deals that prioritize some companies’ content over others, that would threaten the innovation that makes the Internet awesome," wrote Google in a message to Internet activists Wednesday. "No Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize particular Internet services over others."
While Google stopped short of endorsing a particular policy prescription — some Internet activists, for example, are calling for the Federal Communications Commission to begin regulating broadband providers under a part of the communications law known as Title II; others argue such a step isn't needed — the company's strongly worded statement envisions a far-reaching policy that would touch not only providers of fixed broadband like cable companies, but also wireless carriers. (The FCC's chairman, Tom Wheeler, hinted Tuesday that his new rules might do just that.)
A Google spokeswoman declined to say whether the company would be submitting a formal comment to the FCC.
Google's rhetoric appears to mark a return to the company's outspoken position from 2006, when company executive chairman Eric Schmidt said "phone and cable monopolies" posed "a serious threat" to the open Internet and urged Americans to call their lawmakers on the matter.
Four years later, however, Google backed off its attack on telecom companies, issuing a joint proposal with Verizon that would have, among other things, given the wireless carriers a carve-out and prevented the FCC from drawing up a formal rule against traffic discrimination. Amid criticism, Google denied that it had "sold out" on net neutrality.
Since then, Google has largely remained quiet on the question. Some suspect that the silence is due to Google's effort to become a broadband provider in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, Utah, with Google Fiber. If Google becomes more like a traditional Internet service provider, the theory goes, it stands to reason that it would be opposed to strict net neutrality rules in the same way that other ISPs have been.
But Wednesday's statement appeared to put paid to that argument, showing Google is once again supportive of strong regulations that apply to everybody.
Have more to say on this subject? Join us today for our weekly live chat, Switchback. We'll kick things off at 11 a.m. Eastern. You can submit your questions now, right here.