WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Google Inc said on Monday it is committed to principles of equal network access, after a report said it approached Internet carriers with a proposal to create a “fast lane” for its content.
Google’s telecom and media counsel in Washington, Richard Whitt, said in a company blog that the search powerhouse offered to place its servers within the facilities of Internet service providers, making its data closer to consumers and therefore more easily accessed.
But Whitt said the offers did not violate so-called net neutrality — the principle that phone and cable companies that operate data pipelines should treat all traffic equally.
Google was responding to a Wall Street Journal report on Monday that its practices would put at risk its stance on network neutrality.
The company said providers should be able to bolster access speeds through co-location and caching, both techniques that ease data traffic, as long as they do so without discrimination.
“However, they shouldn’t be able to leverage their unilateral control over consumers’ broadband connections to hamper user choice, competition, and innovation,” he said.
The net neutrality debate has pitted Internet service providers such as AT&T Inc against content companies such as Google and Microsoft.
The ISPs say they need flexibility to manage the ever-growing traffic on their networks without government interference, while content companies worry the ISPs hold the power to impede or slow traffic.
Many believe net neutrality will gain momentum under President-elect Barack Obama, who backs the principle.
Several prominent net neutrality backers came to Google’s defense and cast doubt on the Wall Street Journal report.
“The practices described in the article, known as ‘caching,’ are commonplace and have been for many years,” said Gigi Sohn, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge.
“We in the public interest community are pleased to be working closely with our friends in industry, and those friends include Google,” she added.
Josh Silver, executive director of advocacy group Free Press, said the group is “skeptical that Google is truly engaged in a nefarious plot to undermine the open Internet — the company denies it, and we look forward to all of the facts coming to light.”
He added that if any company was planning to “secretly violate” the principle of network neutrality, it would face strong opposition from the Internet community.
The Journal report had said one major cable operator in talks with Google said it has been reluctant to forge a deal because of concerns it might violate Federal Communications Commission guidelines on network neutrality.
Reporting by Kim Dixon and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Derek Caney