After a year of negotiations, Google and Verizon have issued what they are calling “a shared statement of principles” regarding network neutrality.
The proposal would prevent service providers from prioritizing traffic or blocking or degrading content on the "open" Internet, while allowing for "differentiated" online services, like healthcare monitoring or unspecified forms of entertainment in the name of innovation. Wireless broadband would be exempt from any neutrality rules except transparency.
Such Google services as YouTube would remain on the public Internet, according to a blogged transcript of a call between Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "Under the principles, there is no prioritization of traffic that comes from Google over the Internet, period," Seidenberg said. And Schmidt stated Google has no plans to branch into tiered services.
The execs added that this is not a "business arrangement" between the two companies, but rather a contribution to the public-policy debate. It would define the FCC’s authority in the broadband space and would allow fines of as much as $2 million for those who are in noncompliance.
A few days prior to this announcement, the FCC halted talks with ISPs and content providers that were intended to hash out guidelines for a congressional bill that would solidify the regulatory agency’s role, which came into question after a Federal Appeals Court ruling in April (Comcast/BitTorrant). The decision stated that Comcast had the right to manage its network in a way that would slow access to a file-sharing service.
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), a co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, does not think this proposal will protect consumers.
"Many of us have been warning for a number of years that broadband service providers would begin to use a lack of net neutrality regulations to prioritize their increasingly diverse business offerings, “ he said. “(The) announcement is one more reason that the FCC must act to reclassify broadband."
Consumer-advocate groups have made even stronger statements against the proposal. Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson said Google is operating under a new imperative than that espoused by the company’s founders: "Big commercial corporate interests are driving them now…they are paying lip service to the notion of net neutrality."
Simpson added that the proposal will lead to a two-tiered structure.
"There will be the public Internet and this other gated community where people pay a premium to get preferential treatment," he said, noting that while Google stated no plans to offer an enhanced service, that doesn’t prevent it from changing its minds “in two weeks” when it discovers a "new technology that is terribly relevant to them."
As for no wireless broadband regulation, Simpson noted Google’s ties to Android. "It would let the wireless companies manage data flow and give prioritization,” he said. “That is terribly upsetting because the mobile market is where everyone is going."
The NCTA did not comment on the specifics of the proposal, but it did applaud the willingness of companies with divergent views on regulation to come to agreement.
"The Google-Verizon announcement shows that it is possible for compromise and that we can reach a constructive solution," commented Brian Dietz, VP/Communications at that industry group.
–Monta Monaco Hernon