Google has been quietly approaching major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to this morning’s The Wall Street Journal. For those without an online subscription, I’ll summarize by saying the article reviews Google past advocacy of network neutrality legislation, which would make an arrangement such as the company now is seeking with the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast illegal. On the other hand, some many not be surprised by the news. Google for more than a year has been sending mixed messages about its support for network neutrality, providing a campaign forum at its headquarters for President-Elect Barack Obama to speak in favor of neutrality, while on other less visible stages, its executive were conceding that cable and phone companies would have to be permitted some form of network management given the exponential growth of data crossing the Internet. The Journal also provides a round-up of other noted defections from the idea of a regulated Internet. These include Lawrence Lessig, an Internet law professor at Stanford University and key Obama adviser. Lessig, an influential proponent of network neutrality, recently shifted gears by saying that content providers should be able to pay for faster service, the Journal reports. Microsoft and Yahoo have backed off past net neutrality support. And Amazon.com, another one-time vocal supporter of network neutrality is now the one sending mixed signals, perhaps because its found some value in a deal with Sprint for faster downloads.
Amazon’s popular digital-reading device, called the Kindle, offers a dedicated, faster download service, an arrangement Amazon has with Sprint. That has prompted questions in the blogosphere about whether the service violates network neutrality. “Amazon continues to support adoption of net neutrality rules to protect the longstanding, fundamental openness of the Internet,” Amazon said in a statement. It declined to elaborate on its Kindle arrangement. Amazon had withdrawn from the coalition of companies supporting net neutrality, but it recently was listed once again on the group’s Web site. It declined to comment on whether carriers should be allowed to prioritize traffic.