ArtsWatch: Google To Build High-Speed Consumer Broadband Networks

Experimental, fast ISP service could help speed the development of faster connections for all U.S. consumers

GRAMMY.com
Philip Merrill

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Google announced on Feb. 10 that it will build a limited number of 1 gigabit per second Internet networks in U.S. communities. Interested local governments and members of the public are invited to respond by March 26. (link) As test beds, these will provide Google with insights for future business development. Google has also developed its own Internet browser Chrome, the Chrome operating system for Netbook computers, its own mobile operating system Android, and its own Android phone Nexus, so this experiment branching out into the ISP market is consistent with the company's strategy of gaining hands-on experience at digital technology's cutting edge. Net neutrality started to surface as a hot issue in 2006 because Internet service providers wanted to be able to charge companies like Google extra fees to deliver their sites' content at high speeds, (link) so Google's future Net neutrality advocacy is bound to be further informed by this first-hand perspective as a small ISP competitor. Consumer advocates Free Press (link) and Public Knowledge (link) applauded the move and called attention to America's need to catch up with other countries' faster Internet speeds.

On Feb. 4 subcommittees of the Senate Judiciary Committee (link) and the House Commerce Committee (link) heard testimony regarding the planned merger between triple-play cable giant Comcast and General Electric-owned television network NBC Universal. Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts and NBCU President and CEO Jeff Zucker testified before both subcommittees, as did Consumer Federation of America Director of Research Mark Cooper and WOW! Internet, Cable, & Phone President/CEO Colleen Abdoulah. Comcast announced its merger intentions on Dec. 3 of last year and faces regulatory hurdles as well as significant resistance to its plans from consumer advocates. Highlighting his previous comedy experience in NBC's employ, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) attracted attention both for asking harsh questions during the Senate hearing as well as for his Feb. 10 fundraising effort premised on opposition to the merger. (link)

The Department of Justice filed a brief with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Feb. 4 regarding revisions to the settlement agreement between Google's book search project and the Authors Guild. (link) While praising the revisions as substantial progress, the department maintained its opposition, citing objections such as the need for authors who don't want to participate to opt-out — contrary to copyright law's approach of allowing authors to affirmatively control the distribution of their works — and the competitive position Google will have gained for itself by having pushed ahead with massive library digitization unhindered by an effort to seek permissions from content owners. Google answered the DoJ brief on Feb. 11 emphasizing the social benefits of their plan, (link) and a court hearing to review the settlement is scheduled for Feb. 18. On Feb. 5 the Authors Guild defended its decision not to continue fighting it out in court based on the RIAA's impressive series of copyright infringement courtroom victories that it called Pyrrhic, saying, "It didn't work. The infringement just moved elsewhere, in unpredictable ways." (link)

Google-owned YouTube launched safety mode features on Feb. 10, allowing parents to block their kids from seeing content flagged by the community as objectionable, consequently eliminating search results returned from keywords such as "naked." (link) Although computer-savvy teens won't find it too hard to detour around safety mode, its introduction is both welcome and practical.

Upon Feb. 9 approval by the European Parliament, a newly constituted European Commission began its term the next day and will serve until Oct. 31, 2014. While serving her final day as EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding called on social networking sites to better adhere to child safety policies they agreed to last year. (link) Addressing her new role as commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Reding said, "One of my top priorities will be to prepare legislation to respond to new technological challenges, building on the European core data protection and privacy principles, empowering individuals and strengthening their rights. And I will specifically consider the needs of children in the online world." (link)

RealNetworks and Viacom-owned MTV Networks announced their plans on Feb. 9 to spin off the Rhapsody music service as an independent company. (link) Real will contribute $18 million in operating capital to the new entity and reduce its ownership to a minority stake.