More on Net Neutrality: Parsing Through Google and Verizon’s ‘Policy Announcement’

The Google-Verizon Plan and Net Neutrality

Last week, we touched upon the net neutrality issue to help explain and add context to the buzz around a forthcoming Google-Verizon deal. That "deal," as you may have heard, was announced on Monday.

The first thing to note is that it's not an actual deal. In much of last week's reporting, the two companies' talks were described as a nearing a "deal," "an agreement," or "an accord."

Both Google and Verizon emphasized Monday that there is "no business arrangement" behind their announcement, according to The New York Times. Said Google CEO Eric Schmidt: "This is not a deal. This is a joint policy announcement." (This perhaps explains why Schmidt also took a dig at the press, saying that "almost all" the reporting on the rumored deal was "completely wrong." Of course, just because there's not a deal now doesn't mean there can't or won't be such deals down the line.)

But semantics aside, much of the reporting did get the story right. Bloomberg, as we noted, had reported that the companies' compromise favored net neutrality on wired broadband, but "wouldn't apply such limits to Internet use on mobile phones."

That checks out with the joint policy proposal made public Monday. Google and Verizon -- which have historically been on different sides of the net neutrality debate -- agreed that "there should be an enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices" on wired broadband, and that Internet service providers can neither delay traffic nor prioritize it for extra pay. The Federal Communications Commission would enforce this through case-by-case adjudication but would not have rulemaking authority, the proposal read.

The major exception to this was wireless or mobile broadband. Here's the language for that section:

Because of the unique technical and operational characteristics of wireless networks, and the competitive and still-developing nature of wireless broadband services, only the transparency principle would apply to wireless broadband at this time.

The transparency principle refers to the part of the proposal calling for enhanced disclosure from Internet service providers about how they manage broadband networks.

The proposal also left open the possibility of "additional, differentiated online services" that would allow traffic prioritization. "It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop," the companies explained in a blog post, "but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options."

Reactions to the joint announcement ranged from unsure to outraged. Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press, a media advocacy group, called the proposal "the pact to end the Internet as we know it," and said it rendered the FCC a "toothless watchdog."

The FCC did not comment on the proposal to the Times and Bloomberg. After news of the Google-Verizon talks first spread last Thursday, the agency put an abrupt stop to a series of closed-door meetings it had held with the major Internet service providers in recent weeks, citing difficulties in reaching a compromise.

--Marian Wang, Pro Publica

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