Mr. Schmidt, where are you?
Protesters outside Google's (GOOG) headquarters in Silicon Valley called out to CEO Eric Schmidt today, demanding that he come out and meet with them to receive their gift -- over 300,000 petitions calling for Google to end its controversial joint-proposal with Verizon (VZ) that seeks to shape the openness of the Internet going forward.
The group of roughly 50 protesters included a coalition of such groups as the Raging Grannies to MoveOn.org to ColorOfChange.org, All came with a single purpose: convince Google to unwind its proposal.
"I believe in the freedom of the Internet and don't believe in pay to play," said Adrienne Goldsworth, a San Francisco Bay Area resident who signed the electronic petition on MoveOn.Org's Web site. "I love Google. I use Google. But if they go forward with this, I don't want to be a part of a company that isn't a part of me."
Goldsworth said she was prepared to stay true to her beliefs and discontinue using Google if need be. She didn't let on, however, whether she planned to defect to Microsoft's Bing or Yahoo.
Why All the Fuss?
The issue at hand is a Google-Verizon joint-proposal unveiled earlier this week, which outlines suggestions of how to deal with regulating the Internet via wireless and wired carriers from AT&T to Verizon to cable giant Comcast. Critics from consumer groups to venture capitals to major Internet players like Facebook, Skype and Amazon.com have weighed in with concerns.
Two parts of the Google-Verizon proposal have particularly raised the ire of critics. One centers on keeping wireless services under a less-regulated standard than the way wired services are handled, like telephone services, for example.
The other proposal concern focuses on allowing broadband carriers to offer paid services if they deem them separate from the Internet. Critics say that this would create a two-tiered system where companies would no longer have a level playing field in reaching consumers with their offerings at the fastest speed available through the carrier. And as a result, they note that would put young, innovative companies at a distinct disadvantage to companies that have deeper pockets.
Critics like Gail Sredanovic, a 73-year-old member of the Raging Grannies contingent from Menlo Park, Calif., said she wanted the Internet to remain free and unfettered. And she was hoping her presence at the protest would not only prompt Google into changing its proposal, but also prompt others into action. After all, if a 73-year-old woman can engage in activism, what about them young whippersnappers?
"I hope these petitions raise public awareness and shine a light on the problem," Sredanovic said. "We need to be watchful and also ensure that the FCC regulates and not just negotiates."
Meanwhile, in Washington...
The Federal Communications Commission is considering a retooling of the way it regulates broadband service, following an unfavorable court ruling recently that put its authority to do so into question. As a result, the FCC is considering three options: One is to keep things the way they are post-court ruling; a second option is to move broadband and its designation as an "information service" and push it into a "telecommunications" service designation, which brings higher regulation; and a third option is to take parts of the telecommunications service regulations and apply it to the "information service" designation.
Public comment on the FCC proposal closed at midnight Friday and now the agency plans to review the information.
James Rucker, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, served as the spokesman for the coalition, and with the aide of two other protesters, he delivered the three boxes containing the 300,000-plus petitions to Google. The Internet giant allowed the three boxes to be delivered to one of their government public policy representatives, who stressed the proposal is just a proposal -- a starting point for dialogue -- and is not the final version Google and Verizon want legislators to adopt.
Google, in a written statement as the protest was underway, said: "This is an important, complex issue that should be debated. We encourage people to share their thoughts on our joint network neutrality proposal and follow our ongoing commentary on the issue."
Google in the Spotlight
Rucker, obviously, is doing just that. Addressing the group of protesters and media, Rucker said the 300,000 petitions should send a clear message to Google that its brand and reputation are at stake. He also noted that some of the people who signed the petition were Google employees.
"We're trying to do here today is prevent a second class of citizens on the Internet," Rucker said in reference to the proposal to create another set of online services that are not necessarily delivered via the Internet.
He added, however, Google and the coalition are on the same page in asserting there is currently a void on how the Internet is regulated. But that the parties have different views om how to get there.
"The problem with this proposal is that it does very good things for Google and does very good things for Verizon, but the problem is that it doesn't do very good things for the American public," Rucker said.