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Activists Pressure Google on Net Neutrality

by James Temple

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - A protest organized by MoveOn.org, Free Press and other advocacy groups angered by Google's recently proposed rules on governing Internet access drew about 70 activists to the online giant's Mountain View headquarters on Friday.

Stephen Rosenblum (right) of Palo Alto takes part in the protest Friday outside Google's Mountain View headquarters.(Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle) The animated group carried signs that read "Google Don't Be Evil," with devil horns and a pointed tail emerging from the company's name; chanted slogans as creative as "hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go"; and sang "democracy requires net neutrality" to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

The gathering on Google's corporate campus was the latest example of a simmering backlash over an agreement announced this week between the company and Verizon to advance a set of federal rules that many say betray Google's earlier support for an open Internet.

The online search king and other Web businesses have long argued that Internet service providers should treat all legal Web content the same, providing users with unfettered access to the sites and services of their choosing, be they text news articles or network-clogging videos.

But the rules proposed by Google and Verizon included provisions that critics say contradict that position, in particular one that states wireless access providers wouldn't be subject to the same standards.

"It would look more like cable television, where Internet service providers and major content companies like Google decide which content gets priority and which content is important," said S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press, in an interview Thursday.

Midway through the event Friday, organizers delivered what was said to be 300,000 petitions submitted online by people concerned about the proposal to Nicklas Lundblad, Google's head of public policy.

"The problem is this proposal does good things for Google and good things for Verizon, but it doesn't do good things for the American public," James Rucker, executive director of Color of Change, said to the crowd of assembled activists and reporters, after he held a short conversation with Lundblad.

Lundblad issued a statement later in the day.

"This is an important, complex issue that should be discussed," he said. "But let me be clear: Google remains a fierce supporter of the open Internet. We're not expecting everyone to agree with every aspect of our proposal, but we think ... that locking in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection."

Google's security officers kept an eye on the event, but only stepped in occasionally to ensure that roadways weren't blocked.

The activists joined a number of organizations that have expressed concerns about the proposals, including public policy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, academics such as Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, and other Internet giants including Amazon and Facebook.

The Palo Alto social networking company, increasingly seen as a Google competitor, said in a statement this week: "Facebook continues to support the principles of net neutrality for both landline and wireless networks. Preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators - regardless of their size or wealth - will promote a vibrant and competitive marketplace."

Google has defended its actions throughout the week, describing it as a compromise necessary to ensure protections against the "worst forms of carrier discrimination against Internet traffic," in a blog post by Richard Whitt, the company's Washington telecom and media counsel.

"It's true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services," he wrote. "However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye."

One activist at the protest warned that these sorts of measures jeopardize Google's "Don't Be Evil" brand, which has been essential for users who entrust considerable amounts of their personal information to the company.

"Generally, I trust Google more than any company on the planet - until now," said Jonathan Steigman, 46, of Mountain View, who uses many of the company's products. "This could be Google jumping the shark, and it's very easy to move to (Microsoft's) Bing or other services."

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