Google chief legal officer Kent Walker accidentally made Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s argument in a leaked video to Breitbart News that market forces will prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from censoring content, suggesting that net neutrality regulations are unnecessary.
Breitbart News exclusively obtained an hour-long video on Wednesday of a company-wide meeting, shortly after the 2016 presidential election, revealing Google’s determination to thwart President Donald Trump’s agenda as well as the global populist movement. The video also revealed some of the company’s thoughts on the controversial technology policy known as net neutrality.
The Obama-era FCC passed the “Open Internet Order” in 2015, which regulated the Internet as a public utility and established that ISPs such as Comcast or Verizon cannot unfairly block, throttle, or censor content on their networks. Critics believed the rule would stifle Internet freedom, while proponents suggested that the rules are necessary to prevent ISP censorship. The FCC, under current Chairman Ajit Pai, subsequently repealed net neutrality last December.
In the Breitbart News’ obtained video at 28 the minute, 50-second mark, one Google employee asked the panel of Google executives, “Trump’s likely pick for FCC chairman, Jeffrey Eisenach, is notoriously anti-Silicon Valley and opposes net neutrality. What steps are we planning to protect fair use of the internet?”
Walker responded to the part of the question about net neutrality, saying that there will “be an ebb and flow” when it comes to the conversation over net neutrality. The Google legal chief continued:
On net neutrality, we are hoping that the tradition we have established over the last ten maybe twenty years of no improper interference in the flow of data takes on a life of its own after its own after a period of time and it forces the public opinion and makes it harder and harder for carriers to improperly interfere in what people are able to see.
Walker essentially states in this response about net neutrality that public opinion and market forces will continue to make it “harder and harder” for ISPs to unfairly censor and block content. The typical net neutrality argument suggests that the broadband market is not competitive enough for market competition to prevent ISPs from censoring content; Walker’s statement conflicts with the standard net neutrality argument and instead suggests that the country does not need net neutrality rules to prevent ISPs from unfairly blocking content.
This is the same argument Chairman Pai made in his “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” which repealed the 2015 net neutrality order.
Instead, we find that freeing Internet traffic exchange arrangements from burdensome government regulation, and allowing market forces to discipline this emerging and competitive market is the better course. It is telling that, in the absence of Title II regulation, the cost of Internet transit fell over 99 percent on a cost-per-megabit basis from 2005 to 2015. Further, we find that even those commenters that insist that ISPs wield undue power in the interconnection market have offered no evidence that ISPs generally charge supra-competitive prices for Internet traffic exchange arrangements.
Walker’s contention that market forces will prevent ISPs from censoring is a far cry from 2014, when Google and roughly 150 other tech companies sent a letter to the FCC claiming that if they adopted rules that would allow ISPs to establish “fast lanes,” it would represent a “grave threat to the Internet.”
In a November speech, Chairman Pai has pointed out that social media companies serve as a greater threat to free speech than ISPs.
“I love Twitter, and I use it all the time,” said Pai. “But let’s not kid ourselves; when it comes to an open Internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate.”
In a Medium post in September, Pai also contended that the country needs to think “seriously” about whether these social media giants need to abide by “new transparency” requirements regarding their censorship and privacy practices. Pai also called Facebook, Google, and Twitter the Internet “gatekeepers.”
When the FCC repealed the net neutrality regulations in December, Google released a statement contending that the public utility rules have “overwhelming public support” and that they will continue to push for more protections against ISPs.
Google said in December, “We remain committed to the net neutrality policies that enjoy overwhelming public support, have been approved by the courts, and are working well for every part of the Internet economy. We will work with other net neutrality supporters large and small to promote strong, enforceable protections.”
— Mark Bergen (@mhbergen) December 14, 2017
As Matthew Berry, the FCC chief of staff, pointed out in a tweet on Thursday, the Internet continues to remain “free and open” despite net neutrality’s repeal.
Berry wrote, “Day 95 of the post-Title II era: The Internet is free and open, and it’s National Defy Superstition Day. Now, excuse me while I go walk under a ladder and then break a mirror . . .”
Day 95 of the post-Title II era: The Internet is free and open, and it's National Defy Superstition Day. Now, excuse me while I go walk under a ladder and then break a mirror . . .
— Matthew Berry (@matthewberryfcc) September 13, 2018