Google’s Net Neutrality Blunder

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Since its inception, Google has enjoyed the "good guys" reputation in the computing community and beyond. Google has been the inspirational force behind dozens of "good" movements online and off. Products like Gmail, Google Apps, and more have not only pushed the boundaries of free software, they have forced other players, namely Microsoft to step up their game. Microsoft’s new Office web apps might still be years away (if ever) without the push provided by Google’s offerings.

Google has been a helpful force in other areas as well. It’s Chrome browser started a JavaScript speed war within the browser community without which advanced cloud based computing offerings (like web apps) would not be possible. The Android operating system has provided a much needed boost to the mobile phone community, allowing users to get advanced, forward thinking features, without having to sell out all control to whatever Apple decides is "right" for your phone.

In the non-computing world, Google has put its weight and money behind "good" causes and projects like wind energy and more.

Unfortunately, it is beginning to seem like the company does not have the vision to see beyond the latest "fun" technology cooked up by its programmers in their vaunted 20 percent time. The latest debacle comes courtesy of its so-called net neutrality proposal that it cooked up with Verizon. Google finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having to defend not only one of its offerings, but its motivation as well. Whenever a company, any company, must expend as much energy as Google has on defending a non-product idea, it’s a safe bet that it is backing the wrong horse.

In this case, Google is increasingly parsing out the language in its net neutrality proposal. It claims that detractors are getting it all wrong and what it really means is good for everyone, if only you read it their way. Unfortunately, it is just this ambiguity that is the problem. Assuming that one counts on Google being completely benevolent now and in the future (a big assumption), there is nothing to stop others from taking the company’s proposal and reading it exactly as the naysayers say it will be read. What is to stop AT&T, Comcast, or some new telecom company from using "good guy Google’s" words against them, and us?

In a misguided effort to make themselves a key player in the net neutrality debate, Google has put its name on something that has shaken lose some of the hard earned goodwill the company has built up over the years. In the future, this net neutrality proposal will be regarded as a mistake in business strategy by company management. Just how big of a mistake, will depend upon how quickly (if ever) Google realizes it and changes course. If that happens quickly, then this chapter will be regarded as a rare stumble by the Internet giant. If, however, Google insists on pushing a bad position for too long, this moment could very well become known as the beginning of the end.

Will Google recognize the overwhelming, and near universal, backlash against its net neutrality proposal in time, ala Facebook? Or, will Google be unable to see past its own vision of greatness in time to salvage its reputation?

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