Google: Regulations for thee, but not for me

Mike Riggs Contributor
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For the last four years, Google has fought for net neutrality in Washington, and the right to aggregate and serve ads against other people’s content in the technology press. An open letter that the company sent to the FTC Tuesday, however, shows that Google is ready to engage in not one, but two regulatory battles on Capitol Hill.

Ironically, the company finds itself pushing for more regulation on the one hand, and less on the other.

“While we’re not wed to any particular legal theory to justify the FCC’s jurisdiction,” wrote Google counsel Rick Whitt in April before a circuit court struck down the FCC’s latest attempt to regulate Comcast, “we do believe some minimal oversight over broadband networks is essential.”

But in the letter it sent Tuesday to the FTC, which recently released a comment paper suggesting an aggregation tax on sites like Google News, Google argued that “Regulatory proposals that undermine the functioning of healthy marketplaces and stall the pace of change are not the solution. Indeed, the very innovation on the Internet that has led to so many improvements in the lives of consumers around the world is likely to be harmed by many of these proposals rather than enhanced by them.”

One can hardly blame the tech company for using its ubiquity to look out for its own interests: Google stands at the nexus of the two most important regulatory debates of the decade, and the company seems to believe that its own future is contingent upon loading its back pockets with as many legislators and regulators as will fit.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, Google and Microsoft have spent a combined $2.1 million lobbying Congress this year for the implementation of net neutrality. But now that Google is set to fight a government takeover of journalism, it’s likely that the tech company will shortly begin losing allies on the broadband front.

Take Google’s partnership with Free Press, for instance. The notoriously volatile group of media reformistas who not only want to pass net neutrality, but also want to regulate private media out of existence, have openly said that Google is just a temporary ally.

“Free Press wants the Internet to ultimately become a government-backed public utility,” National Journal’s Neil Munro wrote in March. “Google’s view of net neutrality is not nearly so expansive. Last August, Robert McChesney, who co-founded Free Press with [Josh] Silver, told an interviewer that the organization is getting ‘in bed with some media companies that on other issues we are mortal enemies with.’”

As of right now, it’s anybody’s guess as to how Free Press and other media reform groups will change their approach to broad band-reform after reading Google’s letter to the FTC, demanding that government keep its nose out of the journalism business.
“The ultimate solutions that will result in a new online equilibrium for the news industry cannot, however, be mandated by changes in the regulatory framework or a change to the copyright laws.The solutions, instead, must be driven by the industry itself, working with technology providers like Google and experimenting with its customers to develop new and innovative ways of delivering the news online,” the letter reads in part.

And Google’s insistence raises one other question: If the journalism industry can regulate itself, why can’t the Internet do the same?