After announcing a major expansion of its high-speed Internet service, Google said Tuesday it will continue to pour money into new broadband networks even if federal regulators adopt strong net neutrality rules designed to thwart Internet providers that may want to speed up or slow down certain Web sites over others.
That's a long way of saying Google is taking the opposite stance of many in the broadband industry, such as Comcast, Verizon and others, who argue that aggressive rules would slow the industry's investments in better Internet infrastructure — and by extension, their ability to offer better service to you and me.
Asked whether the growing prospect of aggressive federal net neutrality rules has done anything to shift Google Fiber's investment plans — either in the short term or long term — the company told me, basically, no.
"The sort of open Internet rules that the [Federal Communications Commission] is currently discussing aren't an impediment to those plans," Google said in a statement, "and they didn't impact our decision to invest in Fiber."
Analysts widely expect the FCC next month to unveil strict rules for Internet providers based on Title II of the Communications Act, the same legal tool the agency uses to police legacy phone service. Large Internet providers oppose such a move as an example of government overreach; consumer advocates argue that that step is necessary to ensure the FCC can prevent discrimination on the Internet.
While there's a chance the FCC could still go with weaker rules, the conversation in Washington has shifted in recent months toward how the stronger rules might be implemented. Republicans have proposed legislation designed to preempt the FCC on the matter.
Google has mostly kept quiet, at least in the past year, about whether it would support aggressive net neutrality rules, even as it was named one of the top-spending lobbyists in Washington last year. Some have interpreted Google's studied silence to mean that it backs the weaker rules supported by the rest of the broadband industry. After all, Google Fiber stands to be regulated the same way as the cable industry if the FCC comes out with strong rules.
But lately Google has dropped a few more hints about where it stands. In September, the company said it didn't support special deals between Web sites and Internet providers that would give those sites better, faster access to consumers. (For the record, top lobbyists for the cable industry and the wireless industry also said as much in a congressional hearing last week.) Then, in addition to opposing so-called paid prioritization, Google noted in a filing to the FCC that strong net neutrality rules came with a potential upside: They could make it easier for the company to get local support for laying down high-speed Internet cables.
In its statement Tuesday, Google repeated that policymakers should lower barriers to rolling out more fiber, particularly at the city level. "What is important to us is that laws and regulations do not impede new deployment," Google said.
That sentiment does not apparently extend to the kind of aggressive rules the FCC is weighing for net neutrality overall. And that may bolster the hopes of consumer advocacy groups.