Google, Verizon & Net Neutrality

Within the last week there have been many rumors, arguments and public outrage for what some believe is an attempt by Google & Verizon to circumvent Net Neutrality.

The story hit the mainstream when the NY Times published an article stating the two were “nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly,” as long as the content creators were willing to pay.

Both Verizon and Google were quick to deny the story.  Google tweeted the following:

“@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open Internet.”

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt later said:

“We have been talking to Verizon for a long time about trying to get an agreement on the definition of what net neutrality is. We’re trying to find solutions that bridge between the hardcore net neutrality view and the telecom view.”

So initially it appeared to be a non-story other than the fact that the two were trying to determine the exact meaning of what net neutrality is, and where the common ground is for those that demand net neutrality and the telecom carriers that provide access to the internet.

The Reactions & Speculation Begin

Josh Silver was very critical of the news and posted an article on the Huffington Post saying:

“How did this happen? We have a Federal Communications Commission that has been denied authority by the courts to police the activities of Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast. All because of a bad decision by the Bush-era FCC. We have a pro-industry FCC Chairman who is terrified of making a decision, conducting back room dealmaking, and willing to sit on his hands rather than reassert his agency’s authority. We have a president who promised to “take a back seat to no one on Net Neutrality” yet remains silent. We have a congress that is nearly completely captured by industry. Yes, more than half of the US congress will do pretty much whatever the phone and cable companies ask them to. Add the clout of Google, and you have near-complete control of Capitol Hill.

So the Google-Verizon deal can be summed up as this: “FCC, you have no authority over us and you’re not going to do anything about it. Congress, we own you, and we’ll get whatever legislation we want.  And American people, you can’t stop us.”

Regardless of your view on politics, Josh raises some very interesting arguments on how we got to this point.

Google, Verizon Issue Joint Statement

Google & Verizon issued a joint statement in an attempt to clear up any confusion.  The article starts off by initially reinforcing their belief in an open internet.

“…both companies have long been proponents of the FCC’s current wireline broadband openness principles, which ensure that consumers have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose.

My first thought was, “hmmm, wireline broadband.  Why’d they put that in there.”

They then went on to say:

Second, we agree that in addition to these existing principles there should be a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices. This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition.

There’s that wireline term again.

The next paragraph goes on to say:

Importantly, this new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic – including paid prioritization. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic.

Ok, so it appears that they’re against prioritizing internet traffic “including paid prioritization”.  But wait why the wireline mention again?

Their third key element says:

“…it’s important that the consumer be fully informed about their Internet experiences. Our proposal would create enforceable transparency rules, for both wireline and wireless services.”

Ok, good.  Transparency for both wireline and wireless providers.  No arguments here.

Sixth, we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

Wait, WHAT?!?

You want these rules and restrictions to apply to “wireline” providers but not wireless providers?  You say that it shouldn’t apply to wireless providers because “the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly”?  (As the girls from my old neighborhood would say, “OK, AND?”)  I didn’t even mention the fact that you try to bury the most important element of this joint statement in the sixth key element rather than prominently stating it at the beginning.

So, that’s where they stand.  Special rules for wireline providers, but open access and potential prioritization of internet traffic for the wireless broadband providers?

I wouldn’t be surprised if the statement only came from Verizon, but it’s troubling to see it also come from Google, the company who’s philosophy is “Do No Evil”.

Nothing has been set in stone but if Josh Silver’s comments about the relationship between telecom, our legislators and Google’s clout in Washington are even half true than this should give us all a real cause for concern.

Verizon-Google Legislative Framework Proposal

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