Will Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and the others Really Fight for Net Neutrality?

Word from sources in Congress say that the major companies arguing for network neutrality have failed so far to demonstrate they are seriously committed to seeing legislation passed. While the CEO’s from the Bell companies, we were told, glad-handed members of Congress, our leading online companies have been largely MIA. Here we are talking about some of the most powerful online companies, who reach tens of millions daily. Imagine if on its home pages Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft’s MSN urged users to take action and asked them to save the Internet. Congress would be overwhelmed with angry emails and letters. The Bell/cable industry “grass-tops” faux campaign would be seen as a very minor, paid-for, outcry.

But we wonder whether Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! really want to see network neutrality legislation? They must have serious misgivings, since they have done such an incompetent and half-hearted lobbying effort so far. Certainly they are thinking about the downsides of legislation. For today’s call for network neutrality could (and should) lead to other legislative safeguards, such as protecting privacy online. Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! fear that such privacy safeguards would threaten their interactive advertising/data collection digital golden gooses.

Yahoo! and Microsoft also have deals with many of the phone and cable companies. They and other online giants will need favorable access to their broadband lines, network neutrality or not. Perhaps it’s concern over their business relationships that have contributed to their political timidity.

So we ask. Will Google, Yahoo!, Amazon and the others make a serious stand? Did the 27-4 vote in the House Telecom Subcommittee approving the Barton-Rush broadband giveaway serve as a wake-up call? Will we see Bill Gates, Terry Semel, Larry Page/Serge Brin, Jeff Bezos and others make the rounds in D.C.? Will these mega companies unleash a torrent of ads urging Americans to help them keep the Internet an open space? Or will they silently side with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and a few others that want to create a new form of digital divide: those that control the pipes vs. everyone else.

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