Most tech companies today endorse the principle of net neutrality in their public communications. Many of them, however, work to compromise it in their more pragmatic daily dealings — whether it's carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, content providers like Netflix, or giant monoliths like Comcast. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, however, makes the case that Google's commitment to net neutrality is core to the company's success and an unassailable principle guiding its future actions:
"Net neutrality has been hugely critical to the way Internet has developed. The Internet has been a level playing field and I don't think we would be here today and have a strong, free and open Internet without net neutrality. We're very committed to it. Google benefitted a lot from having strong net neutrality in place."
These comments come as part of Pichai's visit to his native India to announce new Google initiatives for the country, which is expected to have the most Android users in the world in 2016. Google's unequivocal support for net neutrality stands in stark contrast to Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook, which has been driving its Internet.org initiative in places like India to offer free access to some aspects of the internet but not all. Zuckerberg has argued that "it's too expensive to make the entire internet free," which, in his eyes, justifies Facebook's selective offering of services. Pichai's visit comes at a time when the country is hotly debating the issue of net neutrality and the way it's affected by zero-rated services such as those offered by Internet.org.
Google itself intends to bring its balloon-based Project Loon to India, providing internet access to more remote parts of the country. That would follow related efforts, announced by Pichai this week, such as the provision of free public Wi-Fi at 100 stations and the equipping of women in rural India through a fleet of "internet-enabled bikes." As Pichai acknowledges, India is growing in importance rapidly and, at some point in 2016, says the CEO, the country will surpass the United States for the largest number of Android users. Android might not be quite as dependent on connectivity as webOS was, but its greatest strength (and greatest benefit to Google) comes about when an Android device is connected to and communicating with the internet.
In expressing such strong support for net neutrality, Sundar Pichai is only reiterating the company line, which Google has made abundantly clear through its advocacy of a free and open internet. But his comments, like those he made recently in opposition to religious discrimination in the wake of a spate of terrorist attacks, now have the added gravitas of coming from the CEO of one of the world's largest companies. Like Tim Cook at Apple, Pichai seems to be growing more assertive in his statements and taking personal positions that assert the direction in which he wants to lead his company.
Everyone wants the biggest possible slice of India's rapidly growing user pie
Aside from the official duties on his visit, Pichai also took the time for an informal chat session with students at Delhi University's Sri Ram College of Commerce, which was documented by NDTV. Among his responses, he again reiterates India's massive potential for growth and development, while also underlining how amazingly fun and intellectually stimulating a place Google is to work at. It reads like an exhibition of another important CEO quality: being a good recruiter-in-chief.