Never underestimate the power of the Internet. Google posted a blog earlier this week that has touched off a firestorm of criticism. Google has taken a controversial position on net neutrality. It is an issue that will impact anyone who uses a computer or smartphone or iPad.
Just like a freeway, the Internet can get congested from so many people online. Sending e-mails, downloading or watching movies and videos, or doing searches. The big debate as Internet use explodes is whether there should be a traffic cop. Google, in conjunction with the wireless carrier Verizon, have taken a stand -- and their stand has sparked a protest.
The issue is called net neutrality. Who, if anyone, should determine whether movies or online commerce get preference when traffic bogs down? Google and Verizon argue the wired Internet (people using DSL or cable) should be open to everyone. But that same open principle should not apply to the fast-growing wireless Internet, used by smartphones, iPads and other handheld devices.
James Rucker, an organizer of Friday's protest, from a group called Colorofchange.org, argues that would give Google an unfair advantage.
"Things in a lot of ways will move to wireless, which is why it's absolutely important that net neutrality rules that have applied for decades here, essentially with the Internet, also apply to wireless," he said.
The protestors came armed with 300,000 signed petitions. Google invited representatives in to deliver them, while others were offered a chance to share their views on the spot.
Sunnyvale resident Eve Moran thinks Google might be getting too powerful.
"I might lose the ability to trust them, and I wouldn't even know what was changing over the network because there's no way to get access," she said. "They're not a government body, and they owe no duty to the public as a private entity."
Google's head of public policy welcomes other points of view, but isn't changing his mind.
"We see that we have a couple of key enforceable protections in our proposal with Verizon, and that's much better than no protections at all," said Nicklas Lundblad, Ph.D., Google senior policy counsel.
A leading expert on telecommunications policy, Marvin Ammori, a law professor at the University of Nebraska, said that Google appears to have changed position and will now find itself at-odds with other Silicon Valley companies. Ammori said he was engaged in multiple meetings with Google two years ago on net neutrality in a previous role as the lead attorney for a media advocacy group, Free Press. Free Press is one of the organizers of Friday's rally at Google.
"Arguments that Google had refuted as being factually inaccurate now Google and their CEO are advancing as though they're true," said Ammori.
Google is now on the opposite side of the fence from other Silicon Valley giants, such as Facebook. Facebook told ABC7 it wants neutrality for wired and wireless Internet.
Andrew Noyes, who handles public policy communications for Facebook, released this statement: "Facebook continues to support 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 where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections."
The Federal Communications Commission has been wrestling with net neutrality, as have policy makers at the White House.
Right or wrong, Google and Verizon may be moving the issue from the back burner to the front.