President Barack Obama has appointed Google boss Eric Schmidt and Microsoft's Craig Mundie to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, an advisory group of scientists and engineers.
Usually these types of announcement bring stifled yawns from the press and public alike, but the Schmidt and Mundie appointments may be good news for supporters of net neutrality, a principle outlined by the Federal Communications Commission in 2005. The principle states that, when it comes to internet access, bits is bits. Broadband providers can't discriminate against different types of internet content, and users should be free to run any legal web applications.
Google and Microsoft have recently restated their support of net neutrality, despite a Wall Street Journal report late last year that questioned their commitment. The WSJ article reported that Google was trying to negotiate with ISPs to create a broadband fast lane for its web content. It also stated that Microsoft and Yahoo had withdrawn from a coalition supporting Net neutrality.
So will the Google-Microsoft involvement in the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) give net neutrality a boost? Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a Washington public-interest group, doesn't think it'll make a big difference. He points out that Schmidt was already a campaign adviser to Obama. "The fact that he's on PCAST shouldn't matter," he wrote via email.
In other words, Schmidt's already got all the access he needs to pitch net neutrality, should he be so inclined to do so.
PCAST is an advisory body only. Its role is to help the White House formulate policy is the areas of science and technology.
Net neutrality has been a hot topic in recent weeks, particularly in light of planned federal stimulus spending for broadband deployment, and whether wireless networks should be subject to neutrality regulations. Another ongoing debate concerns ISPs and the techniques they use to prioritise internet traffic when their networks get congested.
Jeff Bertolucci writes for PC World