Picket signs and chants were seen and heard Friday at Google's Mountain View headquarters, where demonstrators opposed a deal between Google and Verizon perceived as an assault on "Internet neutrality" and free speech online.
With 24-hours notice posted on various websites, including moveon.org, about 100 people gathered at noon in Charleston Park, which edges up to the Internet giant's lunch table-lined courtyard. Signs read "no payola for the Internet" and "FCC, do your job." Organizers delivered a petition with 300,000 signatures to Google after some folk songs by the Raging Grannies, speeches and chants about Internet neutrality, including "together we stand, together we fight, we demand our Internet rights!"
James Rucker, a software programmer and co-founder of colorofchange.org, explained why protesters gathered via loudspeaker.
"The FCC so far has not been successful in preserving a free and open Internet," Rucker said. And while the Google-Verizon deal says it will preserve net neutrality, "it actually does quite the opposite." he said. Websites and applications that want to ensure that they will have unfettered access online "will have to pay for that."
He pointed out the Google itself would not have flourished without Internet neutrality.
It has been widely reported that the proposal made this week by Google and Verizon would exempt wireless Internet service providers from FCC oversight. The proposal has been widely cast as a violation of Google's "don't be evil" policy.
At one point, protesters chanted "we want Eric!" in an attempt to have Google CEO Eric Schmidt address the crowd. Schmidt has denied that the company is reversing its commitment to Internet neutrality and has said the talks with Verizon are an effort by Google to give certain types of content bandwidth priority, such as digital voice or video, but not to discriminate within those types.
On their lunch breaks, Google employees watched from a distance. When asked if Google employees largely shared the protester's concerns, one of them said, "This debate is so complex, but this protest kind of trivializes it."
Stanley Jones was one of several protesters who had jumped on a "save the Internet" bus from San Francisco on short notice. A website developer for non-profit organizations, he said he wanted Google to be an ally in the fight for Internet neutrality, but instead Google's proposal feels like a betrayal. He likened Google's efforts to find a balance on Internet neutrality to trying to find a balance with slavery.
"A balanced policy is not what we need," he said. "We need net neutrality."
"I don't want to tell my kids that we used to have things like LOLcats until Google betrayed us,' he said, referring to the popular cat humor blog.