The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has has approached ISPs with a plan to install servers within their networks, providing a "fast lane" for the famous supporters of net neutrality Updated 1:30p EST

On the issue of net neutrality, the project, tellingly called "OpenEdge", seems to indicate an about-face on Google's part. According to an extant Google Help page, the company's official position is as follows:

In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.

This was posted around the time that Google was lending its considerable influence to fighting the S.2686 Telco bill, which threatened net neutrality. In a letter opposing the bill, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said:

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can't pay.

Pretty clear, right? Then how does Google justify installing ISPs to host their content at higher speeds than other content? While it is easy to see how faster Google and YouTube access might be appealing to Google and consumers, it's clear that the company would have to pay for such preferential treatment, a practice which runs directly counter to their previous stance.

A likely defense would be that, in the case of OpenEdge, ISPs wouldn't be throttling other traffic, just accelerating Google's traffic. That would be true, but not the point. The system wouldn't adversely affect existing services or threaten P2P traffic, but it would be creating a tiered internet, which—no matter how it's packaged—is the greatest fear of proponents of net neutrality. When pressed on the issue, the company simply indicated to the WSJ that "other companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft could strike similar deals if they desired." Coming never: fast-tracked Giz, courtesy of Comcast.

UPDATE:: Epicenter reports that Google responded to WSJ's article, calling it confused. They claim that their OpenEdge, which uses a technology called edge caching (already in use by Amazon), does not contradict their policy on net neutrality. Rather, they claim it only improves the end user experience by colocating a server to minimize the distance between their content and the user, thus speeding up the time it takes to load content. Google feels that ISPs and content providers working together to improve performance is not the same thing as ISPs only making content available for a select audience. [WSJ]