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New BFFs Verizon, Google agree on net neutrality, except for wireless

In a joint statement with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said he agrees with the FCC's push to codify existing net neutrality guidelines and handle violations on a case-by-case basis. But they disagreed on whether those rules should apply to wireless broadband networks.

"The FCC's existing wireline broadband principles make clear that users are in charge of all aspects of their Internet experience--from access to apps and content. So we think it makes sense for the commission to establish that these existing principles are enforceable, and implement them on a case-by-case basis," the CEOs wrote in a joint statement titled "Finding Common Ground on an Open Internet."

The CEOs made their comments on their respective corporate blogs Wednesday evening. Schmidt and McAdams recently struck a multi-year deal to create mobile phones using Google's open-source Android software platform.

"Verizon and Google might seem unlikely bedfellows in the current debate around network neutrality, or an open Internet. And while it's true we do disagree quite strongly about certain aspects of government policy in this area -- such as whether mobile networks should even be part of the discussion -- there are many issues on which we agree," the CEOs wrote.

Verizon has argued that new rules aren't needed to regulate how Internet service providers manage traffic on their networks. Google has been a vocal proponent of stronger rules that would ensure content and services like theirs aren't blocked by carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast.

The executives of the largest search engine and largest mobile services company said they have had a long-standing debate on several particulars about net neurality. And they said the FCC's rule-making process will likely reflect those discussions.

"FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has promised a thoughtful, transparent decision-making process, and we look forward to taking part in the analysis and discussion that is to follow. We believe this kind of process can work, because as the two of us have debated these issues we have found a number of basic concepts to agree on," they wrote.

Here's what they said they agree on:

First, it's obvious that users should continue to have the final say about their web experience, from the networks and software they use, to the hardware they plug in to the Internet and the services they access online. The Internet revolution has been people powered from the very beginning, and should remain so. The minute that anyone, whether from government or the private sector, starts to control how people use the Internet, it is the beginning of the end of the Net as we know it.

Second, advanced and open networks are essential to the future development of the Web. Policies that continue to provide incentives for investment and innovation are a vital part of the debate we are now beginning.

Third, the FCC's existing wireline broadband principles make clear that users are in charge of all aspects of their Internet experience -- from access to apps and content. So we think it makes sense for the Commission to establish that these existing principles are enforceable, and implement them on a case-by-case basis.

Fourth, we're in wild agreement that in this rapidly changing Internet ecosystem, flexibility in government policy is key. Policymakers sometimes fall prey to the temptation to write overly detailed rules, attempting to predict every possible scenario and address every possible concern. This can have unintended consequences.

Fifth, broadband network providers should have the flexibility to manage their networks to deal with issues like traffic congestion, spam, "malware" and denial of service attacks, as well as other threats that may emerge in the future -- so long as they do it reasonably, consistent with their customers' preferences, and don't unreasonably discriminate in ways that either harm users or are anti-competitive. They should also be free to offer managed network services, such as IP television.

Finally, transparency is a must. Chairman Genachowski has proposed adding this principle to the FCC's guidelines, and we both support this step. All providers of broadband access, services and applications should provide their customers with clear information about their offerings.

Doubtless, there will be disagreements along the way. While Verizon supports openness across its networks, it believes that there is no evidence of a problem today -- especially for wireless -- and no basis for new rules and that regulation in the US could have a detrimental effect globally. While Google supports light touch regulation, it believes that safeguards are needed to combat the incentives for carriers to pick winners and losers online.

Both of our businesses rely on each other. So we believe it's appropriate to discuss how we ensure that consumers can get the information, products, and services they want online, encourage investment in advanced networks and ensure the openness of the web around the world. We're ready to engage in this important policy discussion.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 21, 2009; 7:10 PM ET
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