Executive Calls for End to Google's 'Free Lunch' "
By Arshad Mohammed, Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
A Verizon Communications Inc. executive yesterday accused
Google Inc. of freeloading for gaining access to people's
homes using a network of lines and cables the phone company
spent billions of dollars to build.
The comments by John Thorne, a Verizon senior vice president
and deputy general counsel, came as lawmakers prepared to
debate legislation that could let phone and cable companies
charge Internet firms additional fees for using their
"The network builders are spending a fortune constructing
and maintaining the networks that Google intends to ride on
with nothing but cheap servers," Thorne told a conference
marking the 10th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act
of 1996. "It is enjoying a free lunch that should, by any
rational account, be the lunch of the facilities providers."
Verizon is spending billions of dollars to construct a
fiber-optic network around the country for delivering
high-speed Internet and cable TV services. Executives at
other telecom companies, such as AT&T Inc. chief executive
Edward E. Whitacre Jr., have suggested that Google, Yahoo
Inc. and other such Internet services should have to pay
fees for preferred access to consumers over such lines.
While Thorne did not specify that practice, he emphasized
the need for companies such as his to find ways to make
money to justify their investments. "The only way we are
going to attract the truly huge amounts of capital needed to
build out these networks is to strike down governmental
entry barriers and allow providers to realize profits,"
Thorne said yesterday.
Thorne described two obstacles to building such networks:
the task of getting thousands of local franchise agreements
to offer cable television; and what he called "Google
utopianism," a concept he likened to "spiked Kool-Aid."
He spoke as Congress is considering whether to write
provisions that advocates say would ensure consumers
unfettered access to the Internet. The Senate Commerce
Committee will hold a hearing today on the issue, which is
known as net neutrality.
Opponents have argued that there is no need for such laws
because there have been few instances of network providers
blocking Web sites; because their customers would not stand
for such limitations; and because, as a general rule,
regulation of the Internet should be avoided.
Thorne did not mention net neutrality by name in his talk,
which largely involved an assessment of the 1996 telecom law
and what he suggested were its lessons for the future.
"Will another set of restrictions -- the continental
minefield of franchise agreements and the free-ridership of
Google and its brethren -- choke off investment in broadband
deployment?" he said.
Vinton G. Cerf, a vice president and "chief Internet
evangelist" at Google, said in an interview that his company
is worried that if net neutrality protections are not
enacted, the Internet's freedom could be compromised,
limiting consumer choice, economic growth, technological
innovation and U.S. global competitiveness.
"In the Internet world, both ends essentially pay for access
to the Internet system, and so the providers of access get
compensated by the users at each end," said Cerf, who helped
develop the Internet's basic communications protocol. "My
big concern is that suddenly access providers want to step
in the middle and create a toll road to limit customers'
ability to get access to services of their choice even
though they have paid for access to the network in the first