Google and Verizon on Monday went public with their alliance on the hot-button issue of net neutrality, suggesting federal regulators should ensure providers treat all traffic equally on traditional, wireline Internet but not on the mobile Web.The two companies sought to put to rest speculation they supported a net neutrality plan that would permit content companies like Google to pay Internet providers like Verizon for priority treatment on the Web – an alarm that staunch net neutrality advocates sounded last week when news of the Google-Verizon talks first broke.
But while the two companies are calling for enforceable regulations based on the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet principles, the effort is still sure to frustrate devout net neutrality supporters, many of whom balk at the idea that wireline and wireless Web should be treated differently.
Those groups are now pressing lawmakers and other stakeholders to reject the Google-Verizon alliance in favor of something more comprehensive, binding and immediate.
The agreement also prompted FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, one of the agency’s Democratic members and a staunch net neutrality supporter, to implore his agency to act fast in pursuit of tough net neutrality standards.
“Some will claim this announcement moves the discussion forward. That’s one of its many problems,” Copps said in a statement. “It is time to move a decision forward – a decision to reassert FCC authority over broadband telecommunications, to guarantee an open Internet now and forever, and to put the interests of consumers in front of the interests of giant corporations.”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters on a conference call the plan is not a business deal, but a “detailed policy proposal” that stakeholders, including lawmakers and federal regulators, could review and adapt in pursuit of a binding solution.
The plan repeats much of what the two companies have previously articulated in joint statements, op-eds and FCC filings.
For one thing, the seven-point policy statement disavows early reports that the two companies prefer a traffic priority plan, but it seems to leave the door open for Verizon and other providers to partner with content producers to offer specific services over the private networks – such as content over FiOS, Verizon’s cable network, for instance.
But it applies nearly none of those requirements to wireless Web. In the area in which the two firms have a close business interest – some of Verizon’s phones run Google’s Android operating system – they would only call for transparency, not enforceable net neutrality rules.
Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said the different standards were necessary to ensure the wireless industry’s continued growth. “It has different technology, it has a different state of competition… so what we’re concerned about is the imposition of too many rules up front that would not allow us to optimize … the supercharged growth we’ve seen in the past,” he said.
Both Schmidt and Seidenberg said their goal was to promote an open Web while shielding the Internet community from burdensome federal regulation. But they nonetheless failed on Monday to win over skeptical public interest groups, many of which are still furious that the two companies are talking in the first place.
As Google and Verizon unveiled their recommendations, a handful of organizations that staunchly support net neutrality, led by Free Press, convened at Google’s D.C. office to protest the company’s support for a plan they say undermines its longtime mantra of “Don’t be evil.” They delivered a petition filled with more than 300,000 signatures opposing a neutered net neutrality plan.
The Media Access Project later called the agreement a “non starter” for failing to include wireless Web. And Public Knowledge lambasted Google and Verizon’s recommendations on grounds it would allow for certain content to take priority on so-called “managed services,” like gaming portals or health networks, consequently violating the notion of open Internet the deal is meant to protect.
“The public outrage to the initial reports of this agreement should be a sign to the FCC and Congress – the public wants the FCC to protect an open Internet and ensure that the next Google, the next Facebook, the next Twitter and the next Wikipedia can succeed,” said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn. “With the recent demise of the FCC’s network neutrality negotiations, the time for delay and inaction has ended.”
News first broke that Google and Verizon were readying an alliance on net neutrality last week, just as discussions among top industry stakeholders at the FCC began to intensify.
Industry sources say that fallout left the FCC in a precarious position, and ultimately forced the agency to cancel its latest round of stakeholder discussions. Others, however, contend the FCC had long known that Google and Verizon were seeking some partnership on net neutrality issues – something both companies noted during Monday’s conference call.
FCC chief of staff Edward Lazarus said at the end of talks last week that all options remain on the table. Chairman Julius Genachowski’s office has repeatedly declined to comment as to how it will solve problems created by a federal court’s ruling against the agency’s broadband powers earlier this year.