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Google will seek antitrust action against 'fast track' ISPs

A Google executive who helped to invent the internet has said that Google will use antitrust lawsuits to defend net neutrality.06 Jul 2006

After the Commerce Committee of the US Senate rejected enshrining the equality of internet data in law last week, Vint Cerf has told an audience in Bulgaria that the firm will seek to protect its rights to reach every home with antitrust legislation, according to Reuters.

"If we are not successful in our arguments then we will simply have to wait until something bad happens and then we will make known our case to the Department of Justice's antitrust division," he told an audience in Sofia.

Last week the Senate's Commerce Committee approved significant changes to US telecommunications law, allowing telcos to offer TV-like digital video services. The telcos wanted to ensure that they could prioritise their bandwidth-heavy video services on their own networks, but this raised the ire of digital rights activists.

Foreseeing a future where services such as Google or MySpace could be charged to be sent to homes and services which did pay a fast-track fee were promoted by telcos, activists and politicians opposed the change and attempted to have 'internet neutrality' enshrined in the new law.

That attempt failed by the narrowest of margins. An amendment needed a majority of the 22 person Committee but the vote was tied at 11–11. An amendment may still be introduced once the bill reaches the floor of the Senate.

Cerf is a vice president of Google and is credited with playing a key role in the invention of the internet. He helped to develop the universal TCP/IP protocol in the 1970s and founded the Internet Society in 1992. He is now 'chief internet evangelist' for Google.

Speaking in Bulgaria at the invitation of that country's president, Cerf said that Google would have to adapt if the US law is passed without any automatic protection for net neutrality, but that the company would have to "wait and see whether or not there actually is any abuse," according to Reuters.

Telecoms companies lobbied hard against net neutrality and have argued that since they pay for the networks they should be allowed to decide what information receives priority on it. AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre said last November in an interview with Business Week that internet companies such as Google and Vonage ought to pay to reach customers' homes.

"How do you think they're going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it," he told the magazine.

Proponents of net neutrality argue that by paying a monthly fee for internet access, customers have already paid to access sites like Google or Vonage, and blocking the sites and asking for further payment acts counter to the service they have already bought.