"I'm not worried so much about Google in this regard," David Drummond, Google's general counsel, said at a 90-minute debate organized here by the Progress and Freedom Foundation. "I'm worried about the small innovators at the edge of the networks."
In the mid-1990s, when company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were creating what would become the world's most popular search engine, Drummond said they "didn't think about who we had to talk to on the network to make sure users could use the Google search engine."
"This is pre-garage," Drummond said about the period. "These guys are in a dorm room...Are we going to go worldwide and talk to carriers everywhere to cut deals?"
Google has been at the forefront of the, lobbying politicians in Washington to enact laws granting the Federal Communications Commission the power to regulate broadband providers. Those proposals have been embraced by Democrats but largely opposed by Republicans and large telecommunications companies including AT&T and Verizon. (The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the matter later this year.)
While the concept of Net neutrality has varying definitions, it means at least that no Web sites or services should be blocked by broadband providers. Amazon.com, Google, eBay, Yahoo and some other Internet companies would like to extend that definition to prohibit broadband providers from entering into deals that would, for instance, let video from one Web site stream faster than another. Another debate is whether the FCC or the Federal Trade Commission should.
During Tuesday's debate, Carolyn Brandon, vice president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, said that Google's lobbying "reflects an underlying insecurity" in its product and perhaps a fear that telecommunications companies will create "a better search engine."
"Why a lack of faith in your product?" Brandon asked.
"I see no logical connection between our position on Net neutrality and some competitive concern about our search engine and network operators," Google's Drummond replied. "Where you're getting that I'm not sure."
For their part, network operators have steadfastly pledged not to prevent customers from visiting certain Web sites or using certain services like voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). "We're not going to block access to any Web sites," said James Cicconi, senior executive vice president at AT&T. "All of our customers would have access to that Web site."
Instead, they say, the returns from high-speed video are what will drive investment in faster networks.
Extensive Net neutrality regulations create "additional risks" that stifle investment, Cicconi said, adding that AT&T will only spend more on its networks if the economics work out. "We could take that money and put it into wireless. We could buy Burger King. We could put it into certificates of deposit and get a predictable rate of return."
Some audience members and executives from AT&T and Bell Canada accused Google of entering into the same kind of preferential deals.
One charge was that eBay (which owns PayPal) has blocked Google's payment system from being used on its own site. "There's lots of choices out there," Drummond said in response. "It's a different market. It's an entirely different market."
An audience member charged thatto integrate the search company's Blogger and Web search features into mobile phones violates Net neutrality rules. It lets Google's search option appear faster than its rivals.
Tod Cohen, eBay's deputy general counsel, said he'd "like to hear" how that is consistent with Google's position on Net neutrality.
"We're not sure the wireless world is quite the same," Drummond replied. "This may be where we part company with you guys."
Earlier on Tuesday, Qwest's chairman blasted companies like Google, Amazon.com and Yahoo that have pressed Congress for extensive Net neutrality regulations.
Richard Notebaert, Qwest Communications' chairman and chief executive, accused large search engine companies of hypocrisy for complaining about Internet filtering by broadband providers--while doing it themselves.
He called it "hogwash" for companies "to talk about blocking, when they're in fact the ones doing blocking, not in this country but in other countries."
Notebaert cited a recent Amnesty Internationalfor their censored search results China.
"With no facts, no proof, and innuendo again," Internet companies are lobbying for Net neutrality rules, "all to put certain content providers in a better position," Notebaert said. He claimed it was "preposterous" to believe "that companies like Qwest would block or even consider degrading service."