Depending on the Kindness of Google.

The anger at Google over its "compromise" net-neutrality proposal with Verizon is understandable, but it's also a reflection of the fact that what exists of a modern media reform movement in the United States isn't exactly awash with good options.

Yesterday's attempt by Google to quell some of the anger made the case that they and Verizon are simply a pair of voices among many in the neutrality discussion:

We're not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could -- or should -- decide the future of this issue. We're simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has [been] largely stagnate after five years.

Google, of course, knows full well that media companies are actually imbued with a tremendous ability to shape the media public policy emerging from Washington. That reality, and the fact that Google is as much company as ethos in the public mind, makes it a particularly successful villain. But for the long-term prospects of media reform, the satisfaction of targeting the company in the way that Free Press, Color of Change, MoveOn, and others have done might be short and shallow.

In a healthy media system, Congress and federal regulators would truly serve to represent the interests of the American public, informed by the expert advice companies like Google and Verizon can provide. "Informed," not "dictated by." Counterbalancing corporate intentions is at the core of U.S. media reform history. That makes it a little jarring that progressive advocates are prioritizing influencing the behavior of Google Inc. It makes a sad sort of sense: Neutrality's strongest advocates see peril in even a Democratic Congress. Out of ignorance and corporate influence, the prospect for sensible neutrality principles aren't good on Capitol Hill. The FCC's only slightly better.

Today, if Google floats a proposal that threatens the public interest, the natural reaction is to go after Google, fast and hard. There simply aren't other leverage points in the public institutions, but there should be, because we, as citizens, created them and pay for them. So in the short term, leaning on Google is a reasonable strategy. But it also reminds us that the long-term strategy needs some work.

--Nancy Scola

(Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

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