Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Google's Ground-Breaking Grassroots Effort: The FT seems to believe that Google’s lobbying efforts on behalf of net neutrality are “challenging not just the style of Washington lobbying but the central fact of power in the capital: that money often speaks louder than democracy.” Using the Internet to mobilize supporters—including progressive bloggers, who have been vocal on the issue—“they have got the voters talking directly to the legislators—without the intermediary of opulently shod lobbyists—in ways that could profoundly influence the future of lawmaking and lobbying.

I suspect the FT may be overstating the case in a couple of ways: first, I’m not convinced that Google has entirely eschewed traditional lobbying (surely there’s someone somewhere wearing Gucci and carrying around a check from the search engine company); and second, I’m not convinced that the grassroots mobilization effort the FT describes is all that different from the fairly traditional approach of mobilizing as many citizens as you can in support of your cause. I’m not even sure that using the Internet is particularly unusual.

What is interesting about the net neutrality debate is the extent to which bloggers have weighed in on the issue, which pits Google and other content providers against telecoms companies, who want to be able to charge those providers for carrying their content—despite the fact that you and I are already paying a hefty monthly fee to receive the “programming.”

Google is concerned for obvious reasons, and progressives are concerned because giving telcos the right to charge content providers raises the very real possibility of discrimination: while The New York Times could presumably afford the fees, the average blogger could not—so pages from the little guys would load slower, the democratic culture of the Internet would be turned on its head and media power and influence would be restored to its rightful owners, the rich and established.

Telcos could even decide to charge The New York Times more than The Wall Street Journal, or Fox News more than CNN. (These are the guys who helped the Bush administration listen in on its critics phone calls, remember; they’re capable of anything.)

It’s an issue that resonates strongly—perhaps uniquely—in the blogosphere, and it has unleashed the public affairs power of blogs. Is it a one-off or a sea-change?

1 Comments:

  • At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Sean Garrett said…

    Paul:

    A few random thoughts on this:

    -It's fantastic that Google is taking a "different" approach to DC and lobbying. It's also great that they are focusing their policy priorities on issues that face their individual users.

    New ways of encouraging dialouge between the public and their representatives is always a good thing.

    -Google has a Washington office. They have lobbyists on retainer. And, they've even hired an in-house Republican that worked in the Bush White House. They will hire more. Still, they are far from taking the Microsoft O-to-60 approach that meant doing nothing to hiring every lobbyist in town. Google certainly has the resources to take this approach, but they have clearly chosen a more measured (yet iconoclastic) approach.

    (One caveat: Telcos and cable companies have dollars in most every big, relevant lobbying firm in town. Therefore, it would be extremely hard for Google to "pull a Microsoft" on the NN issue even if it wanted to).

    -It's instructional that the Google supported pro-NN group would ask others to CALL their congressional representatives -- and not to simply email or blog on the debate. This is just the same as the Public Affairs 1.0 Web age when folks used archaic tools such as Web sites and bulletin boards to engage political action also requested supporters to use phone/fax as their preferred communications medium.

    -Coming from a principal in a tech policy firm who would love to say that Internet issues will impact the election, I'm afraid to guess that Net Neutrality will have very little of an impact on congressional races this year. Though, since the votes have largely (and unfortunately) run down party lines, clearly some Democrats will make hay out of the issue with both Web companies and pro-NN individuals.

    -Blogs probably won't change what's important in people's lives. They'll just make them more knowledgeable and/or engaged in the issues that care about. The NN debate has provided voice to the early bloggers who view Internet communications as an extremely important to them. Yet, war, the economy, the environment and health care are probably going to be higher on the priority list of average voters (and future bloggers) than Internet access for a good while.

    -The FT piece fails to mention the new communication tool that has really popped onto the scene during the NN debate (and to great effect): Internet video.

    -Despite the support of countless bloggers, Google and their many allies did NOT win this round in DC. That said, you better believe that the telcos and the cable folks will have a more savvy and prepared online strategy for when the bell rings the next time around. It's a new battleground, but it's not the war in itself.

    -Sean Garrett

    P.S. My firm has had a tech policy blog up since 2004. Feel free to give it a visit when thinking about this stuff. http://463.blogs.com

     

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