Google denies selling out, defends net neutrality pact with Verizon
Google responded Thursday to heavy criticism of its agreement with Verizon Communications, saying it compromised in order to move the ball forward on a net neutrality law because it appears the Federal Communications Commission had lost its ability to be an adequate watchdog.
In a blog post titled “Facts About Our Net Neutrality Policy Proposal,” Google’s senior media and telecom counsel, Rick Whitt, attempted to debunk five “myths” the company said have been circulating since the firm announced its legislative blueprint with Verizon on so-called net neutrality rules.
First, Whitt said Google did not "sell out" on net neutralty -- the principle that all Web content should be accessed equally by consumers.
“We’re not saying this solution is perfect, but we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all,” said Whitt, one of the most vocal proponents in recent years of broad net neutrality rules at the FCC.
Public interest groups disagreed. They have slammed the proposal by Google and Verizon, saying the deal could allow carriers to give preference to some applications and block others on wireless networks. Moveon.org said it is planning a protest at Google's Mountain View campus Friday at noon. And the groups disagreed with Whitt's assertion that the wireless industry was competitive enough to police itself and didn't need open access rules.
Whitt defended a proposal for specialized managed services that could be used for better quality channels for gaming, banking and telemedicine, for example.
Public interest groups and some startups complained the provision could allow the wealthiest Web firms to buy up capacity on networks that would edge out new competitors. That would leave consumers with an Internet similar to the cable television model of bundled channels, they said.
"Google's latest response is yet another layer of lipstick on the pig," said Derek Turner, policy director of public interest group Free Press. "While we agree the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, the terrible should be, and their deal with Verizon is simply terrible for the future of the open Internet.
Free Press and two dozen other public interest groups sent a letter to the FCC, saying commissioners needed to assert their authority to regulate broadband providers. They urged the FCC to ignore the Google-Verizon framework.
And they said Google's plan undermines the agency's ability to make policy, giving it limited powers. Google and Verizon proposed the FCC act more like an enforcement agency that can slap fines of as much as $2 million on "bad actors."
But Whitt said recent events have hobbled the FCC’s ability to carry out rules that prevent network carriers from blocking or slowing traffic. The FCC’s loss to Comcast in a federal appeals court undercut the agency’s authority as a broadband industry watchdog.
He also alluded to increased political pressure against those rules and the company’s sense of urgency to push forward on a narrow law, even if that meant walking back on goals for rules to apply to wireless networks. When FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his policy proposal for net neutrality last September, he received more than six dozen letters from Democratic lawmakers rebuking him for the move, which they said was over-reaching.
“But given political realities, this particular issue has been intractable in Washington for several years now,” Whitt wrote. “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.”
Contrary to news reports, as in Post Tech, Whitt said the agreement was not about Android and Google’s business ties to Verizon Wireless. And he said the companies had signaled closer agreement on wireless issues over recent months and that the firm felt it was fine to let go of rules for mobile networks because that industry was competitive.
“This is a policy proposal – not a business deal,” Whitt said. “Of course, Google has a close business relationship with Verizon, but ultimately this proposal has nothing to do with Android.”
August 12, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
Categories: Broadband , FCC , Google , Net Neutrality , Verizon
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