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Google is an accidental freedom-fighter for free speech in a battle that could have historic consequences 12/10/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Google, WhiteSpace.

Despite its corporate mantra that it “does no evil,” Google has been an unreliable friend to the Bill of Rights. It has cooperated with Chinese authorities in the development of technologies that suppressed web-based speech. It has at times shown insufficient deference to property rights in its efforts to scan all materials, copyrighted and otherwise. And it has pushed the government hard to get passage of the benign-sounding, but insidious “net neutrality” legislation. This is an attempt by Google and others to use the force of government to protect their own costs at the risk of setting a precedent for government regulation of the Internet that would no doubt lead to chilled political speech, as happened decades ago in broadcast.

So, it is a pleasant and stunning surprise to find that Google is engaged in an effort that not only supports the Bill of Rights, but might also advance free speech so greatly that it would wash away all their previous sins. Google is pushing the FCC to allow unregulated broadcasting in the “white spaces” between TV channels using technologies that do not require assigned, dedicated frequencies. In one variation, transmission frequencies would be shifted continuously to avoid conflicts with other signals.

This means that new, unregulated broadcasters could emerge, and engage in freer political speech than traditional broadcasters. They would not be subject to real or perceived pressure from offended politicians, who at times have asked the FCC to deny renewal of broadcast licenses. This would also break-up the oligopoly of the major TV networks who have had a stranglehold on mass-communicated political speech, and have abused it by feeding us monolithic, center-left viewpoints dressed-up as the objective truth. Not surprisingly, it is the networks who are fighting Google, on the false basis that these technologies would interfere with their signals. No doubt, Google is fighting this battle for profits rather than principles, but at least this time Google is on the same side as the real “people’s republic.”


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