It’s the closest thing the Internet has to a creation myth: The Web owes its usefulness today to decentralization, individual empowerment, and noninterference from the corporate and government classes. For the Internet to remain an innovative place, tech-policy types argue, this libertarian culture must continue.
But how to promote such a future? That’s where the interest groups diverge. Google and other developers of Web applications believe network operators—the Verizons and Comcasts of the world—ought to practice network neutrality, moving every piece of traffic at the same speed regardless of whether it contains a simple e-mail or a bandwidth-intensive video. Web companies have also argued against legislation that would let the government shut down websites in connection with copyright-infringement lawsuits.
All this activity has resulted in Google pouring about $17 million into lobbying last year, making it the top spender on Internet issues by far. Microsoft came in second at about $8 million. Rounding out the top five spenders on Internet lobbying were Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and IBM.
Network operators, meanwhile, are lobbying hard against net neutrality. In the telecom field, AT&T matched Google virtually dollar for dollar last year on overall spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. After AT&T, Comcast and Verizon were the next-largest corporate lobbyists on telecom issues. Allowing some customers to use more than their fair share of data—while requiring Internet providers to eat the extra costs of their habit—robs companies of revenue that could be used to upgrade network infrastructure, the firms argue.
A court decision is expected sometime this year on the Federal Communications Commission’s rule mandating net neutrality nationwide. If it’s overturned, it could deal a blow to the FCC’s attempt to regulate broadband moving forward. Among the key petitioners hoping for the rule to be struck? Verizon.