The Wall Street Journal has caused quite a stir by publishing a story saying that leading proponents of net neutrality have been softening on their positions. Few blogs fell for the embellishment and Google and Lawrence Lessig have defended their not-so-shifty positions.
Google's Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, took to the company's public policy blog to clarify:
Despite the hyperbolic tone and confused claims in Monday's Journal story, I want to be perfectly clear about one thing: Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open.
Lessig, a professor of internet law at Stanford and keynote speaker at last week's SES Chicago, explained how the Journal got his position correct, but the idea that his position new is wrong:
I distinguish between "zero price regulations" (such as Markey's bill (which I say I am against)) and what I called "zero discriminatory surcharge rules" (which I say I am for). The zero discriminatory surcharge rules are just that -- rules against discriminatory surcharges -- charging Google something different from what a network charges iFilm. The regulation I call for is a "MFN" requirement -- that everyone has the right to the rates of the most favored nation.
This is precisely the position that the Journal breathlessly attributes to me today. It represents no change -- no "softening" no "shift" in my views.
When it comes to net neutrality, no matter what side of the issue you tend to take, one thing is for sure: journalists and PR people who misunderstand how the internet works are only adding to the confusion.
Google also seems to be learning little from its recent failure in Washington, which cost them a search advertising deal with Yahoo!. Unless they learn to be proactive instead of reactive, they're going to consistently lose to more experienced players. Then again, being against regulation for search advertising and for regulation regarding net neutrality is a delicate stance to balance.