Google Inc. co-founder and President Sergey Brin met with U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday to press for legislation that would prevent Internet access providers from charging Web sites more for faster content delivery.
"The only way you can have a fast lane that is useful -- that people will pay a premium for -- is if there are slow lanes," Brin told reporters after meeting with Republican John McCain, a member of the Senate committee that oversees telecommunications issues.
Google, Microsoft Corp. and other major Internet site operators have joined with small Web site owners to oppose broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications that want to offer faster network performance to companies that pay more. The issue has been dubbed "net neutrality" by those who oppose a two-tier system of access and pricing.
Brin acknowledged large companies such as Google would be able to cut deals with the network owners to get their content through. But he added that Google searches are only valuable if consumers can then quickly access the sites listed in the results.
"The thesis is that some content providers will pay for premium service. Why are they paying? Just because they feel charitable toward the telcos and ISPs?" Brin asked. "I assume they are paying because otherwise they would have worse performance, or maybe it won't really work."
The U.S House of Representatives may vote as early as this week on a telecommunications reform bill that does not include the net neutrality protection sought by Google.
But the bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission to enforce the agency's September 2005 broadband policy statement that says consumers are entitled to access the content and applications of their choice.
Critics like Brin say these provisions do not go far enough and they hope to get stronger language in the Senate's version of a telecoms reform bill. Brin said he "did not know where McCain will come out on the issue."
Clad in jeans and sneakers, the billionaire Silicon Valley executive said his company is new to Washington lobbying.
Nonetheless, the seven-year-old company has found itself at the center of several political storms in recent months. It successfully battled the Justice Department to avoid handing over search records and absorbed severe congressional criticism over its business practices in China.
"Our reputation certainly suffered" from reports that Google's Chinese site -- www.google.cn -- did not show search results on topics critical of the Chinese government, he said.
But he said only 1 percent of Chinese users use google.cn, while the majority uses the unfiltered www.google.com.
"We are not actually censoring in China," he added.