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?