Google and Verizon reveal pact to protect open internet

10 Aug 2010

Google and Verizon last night issued a joint statement and framework on the thorny subject of net neutrality – avowing their belief the internet should remain open.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is understood to have last week abandoned negotiations with phone, cable TV and internet providers. The news comes after it was claimed Google and Verizon were in talks about managing internet traffic.

The thorny subject of who pays for the internet and the required broadband infrastructure is at the heart of the net neutrality debate. On the one hand you have the internet companies who are attracting large online audiences like YouTube and Facebook, but on the other you have the infrastructure providers who could provide higher speeds and better performance to internet firms willing to pay.

Yesterday Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Ivan Seidenberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon, introduced a joint proposal on net neutrality that takes the form of a suggested legislative framework for consideration by law-makers, and is laid out here.

The proposed framework, they say, gives the FCC a role carefully tailored for the new world of broadband, while also allowing broadband providers the flexibility to manage their networks and provide new types of online services.

In a joint statement the companies said that original architects of the internet got the big things right. “By making the network open, they enabled the greatest exchange of ideas in history. By making the Internet scalable, they enabled explosive innovation in the infrastructure.

“It is imperative that we find ways to protect the future openness of the Internet and encourage the rapid deployment of broadband.”

Both companies say they 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.


Prohibition against discriminatory practices

Schmidt and Seidenberg added that 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 prioritise lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition.

“Importantly, this new non-discrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritisation of Internet traffic – including paid prioritisation. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favour particular Internet traffic over other traffic.

“Third, 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. Broadband providers would be required to give consumers clear, understandable information about the services they offer and their capabilities. Broadband providers would also provide to application and content providers information about network management practices and any other information they need to ensure that they can reach consumers.”

They say their proposal spells out the FCC’s role and authority in the broadband space.

“In addition to creating enforceable consumer protection and nondiscrimination standards that go beyond the FCC’s preexisting consumer safeguards, the proposal also provides for a new enforcement mechanism for the FCC to use. Specifically, the FCC would enforce these openness policies on a case-by-case basis, using a complaint-driven process. The FCC could move swiftly to stop a practice that violates these safeguards, and it could impose a penalty of up to US$2m on bad actors.

“We want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the internet access and video services (such as Verizon’s FIOS TV) offered today,” they said in a statement.

Wireless broadband

Google and Verizon say they recognise 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.

“Finally, we strongly believe that it is in the national interest for all Americans to have broadband access to the internet. Therefore, we support reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund, so that it is focused on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available.

“Ultimately, we think this proposal provides the certainty that allows both web start-ups to bring their novel ideas to users, and broadband providers to invest in their networks.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years