Google Denies Selling Out Network Neutrality with Verizon

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-08-14

Google Denies Selling Out Network Neutrality with Verizon

Google denied flouting network neutrality principles and selling out in its broadband policy proposal with telecommunications giant Verizon.

The search engine sought to defend itself from attackers from all corners of the Web who claimed Google was not sticking to strict principles for an open Internet, which is submitted for the Federal Communications Commission to consider.

Google and Verizon August 9 unveiled a plan that would prohibit wireline operators from discriminating against any applications, content and other traffic on the open Internet.

While this is in keeping with network neutrality principles that call for fair competition for Web content over broadband pipes, the companies angered some factions because they did not extend these principles to wireless networks.

Google and Verizon said they did not wish to stifle innovation in an evolving market. However, member groups of the Media and Democracy Coalition expressed concern about those issues.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the MDC complained that the principles don't cover wireless networks.

"This could further widen the digital divide, particularly for those that rely primarily or exclusively on wireless Internet access, as do many individuals in rural areas, and many low-income consumers," the MDC wrote. "It may also create a barrier to entry by independent creators, entrepreneurs and startups."

What some call a sell-out, Google called a compromise in a blog post August 12.

"It's true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services," wrote Richard Whitt, Google's telecom counsel in Washington.

"However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye."

Also bothering the MDC and others is the idea that Verizon and carriers could create a faster traffic lane for additional online services that would not be part of the public Internet.

To many Web watchers, this two-tiered service delivery model segregates the public Internet. The widely-held belief is that the Internet is public and any attempts to separate services and prioritize them with faster traffic flies in the face of the open Web.

The MDC said Verizon's definition of "additional online services" is so broad, "it could easily lead to another form of paid prioritization of Internet content and other types of unreasonable discrimination, which is inconsistent with the concept of an open Internet."

Google Says It Is Compromising Not Selling Out


Google disagreed and Google CEO Eric Schmidt on the August 9 media call with reporters was adamant that it would watch Verizon closely to ensure it follows through on its promise not to discriminate.

Whitt said that under the policy a broadband provider such as Verizon must comply with the consumer protection and nondiscrimination standards before it could offer such online services as gaming or 3D channels. Moreover, the FCC would monitor any such services and "intervene where necessary."

The MDC also decried the suggestion that the FCC only be permitted to have case-by-case adjudication "with Commission deference to third party dispute resolution procedures as the preferred method for resolving potential ISP abuses."

In its defense, Google argued that its proposal is a good thing, giving the FCC the power to preserve the open Internet through enforceable rules on broadband providers. "At the same time, the FCC would be prohibited from imposing regulations on the Internet itself."

Ultimately, to the allegation that it has sold out, Whitt pointed to Google's track record of fighting for network neutrality. However, he argued that political realities have made the broadband policy impossible to agree on in Washington.

Hence, the compromise with Verizon, which until this year has been one of its staunchest opponents of network neutrality as the FCC defined it.

"At this time there are no enforceable protections - at the Federal Communications Commission or anywhere else - against even the worst forms of carrier discrimination against Internet traffic," Whitt wrote.

"With that in mind, we decided to partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together."

Call it compromise or sell out, this issue has caused great consternation among not only consumer rights advocates and citizens, some of whom held a protest August 13 at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, but among Internet companies such as Facebook.

The leading social network made it clear in a statement to eWEEK that it wants network neutrality for both wireline and wireless networks":

"Facebook continues to support principles of net neutrality for both landline and wireless networks. Preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators -- regardless of their size or wealth -- will promote a vibrant and competitive marketplace where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections."

Even venture capitalists, who are not known for throwing their hats into the political ring, are arguing that the Google-Verizon proposal impinges the ability for their startups to flourish under the threat of discrimination versus wireless services.

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