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Battle over net neutrality heats, public interest groups call on FCC to ignore Verizon-Google plan

Pro-net neutrality groups increasing the pressure – both on the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a stronger policy than one presented by Google and Verizon and on the companies to drop their plan.

In a letter sent Thursday to all commissioners at the FCC, two dozen public interest groups and foundations called on the agency to reject a framework proposed by Google and Verizon earlier this week that would exempt wireless networks from any open access rules and allow for special network services that they fear could “cannibalize” the Internet.

“The Google/Verizon announcement does not in any way alleviate the need for the Commission to act to protect consumers, small businesses, students, creators, innovators, investors and others that depend on an open, vibrant Internet,” wrote Free Press, Media Access Project, Benton Foundation, Consumers Union, and others.

Google and Verizon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. But those firms, despite criticism by Facebook, Amazon, IAC’s Barry Diller and some venture capitalists, also are receiving some support from labor unions, AT&T and some think tanks. Microsoft and Yahoo declined to comment on the Google-Verizon pact.

In a statement, the Communications Workers of America, said the organization supports “all efforts to move forward to protect an open Internet.” The labor organization, like AT&T and Verizon, hopes for Congress to take up a law on net neutrality as opposed to the FCC, which would assert more regulatory authority over the broadband industry if it were to make its own rules.

AT&T said it is looking at the Verizon-Google deal shows progress in a years-long debate.
“The Verizon-Google agreement demonstrates that it is possible to bridge differences on this issue.”

Public interest groups instead are turning up the heat on the FCC to act. The agency has said its authority to carry out such rules were undermined by a federal court decision last April that Comcast brought against the agency. The FCC had determined in 2008 that the cable giant violated rules that prevent a carrier from slowing down traffic on their network.

As such, the groups called on the FCC to assert its authority over broadband regulation. It’s a rallying call being heard around the Web by advocates of net neutrality, including Cardozo Law professor Susan Crawford and Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig in a guest op-ed in the Mercury News.

“New businesses should not have to ask permission before selling their services over the carriers' lines, any more than a new television manufacturer should have to ask permission from a local utility before being allowed to plug into the electricity grid,” they wrote. To FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, they wrote: “Don't let these giant galoots shaking hands in the corner distract you -- you have a job to do.” is planning a protest for noon Friday at Google's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. Google, a staunch supporter of broad net neutrality rules, has stepped back with its agreement to leave wireless networks unregulated.

By Cecilia Kang  |  August 12, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
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