Google-Verizon proposal opens loophole for corporate takeover of Web

Google and Verizon on Monday revealed their new proposal for how Internet providers should manage their networks, and “net neutrality” advocates are not happy about it.

The policy establishes two sets of rules for two parallel Internets: broadband and mobile wireless.

The broadband Internet will play by the traditional net neutrality rules, which advocates a free-and-open Web that does not discriminate and does not require websites to pay for higher exposure to customers.  In other words, an equal playing field: Youtube (in its early stages) had just as much of a chance of popping up at the top of searches as Real Player (the video streaming leader of its time).  May the best website win.

Controversy arises over the new rules for wireless networks: no net neutrality; anything goes – including allowing providers to block websites, and charge customers for different tiers of the Internet.  The proposal also leaves open the possibility of letting providers have this same control over content on all future innovations in the wireless industry.

Because wireless innovation is the future of the Web, net neutrality advocates fear Google may have just signed over control over the Internet’s future to the corporate providers that care more about driving their bottom lines than genuine innovation and social integration.   The new Google-Verizon policy sets an historic precedent that all Internet providers can now look at and say, “Well if Google says it’s okay, then that’s how we’ll do it from now on.”

The only entities that stand in this policy’s way are Congress and the FCC.  But the FCC’s power over the Internet was badly marginalized by a Supreme Court case that sided with Comcast last summer.  And most of Congress doesn’t understand how the Internet even works (think Republican Senator Ted Stevens, who called the Internet “a series of tubes.”)

What others have to say

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg’s joint op-ed in the Washington Post: The proposal we outlined Monday as a suggested policy framework for lawmakers translates these principles into a fully enforceable broadband Internet policy. In developing this framework, we were guided by two principles: our commitment to an open Internet, and the need for continued investment in broadband infrastructure, which is critical to U.S. global competitiveness.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps: Some will claim this announcement moves the discussion forward. That’s one of its many problems. It is time to move a decision forward—a decision to reassert FCC authority over broadband telecommunications, to guarantee an open Internet now and forever, and to put the interests of consumers in front of the interests of giant corporations.

PC World: Let’s use an analogy. Assume that the FCC called a meeting to declare pizza the best food ever. Then Google and Verizon meet on the side and call a press conference to declare that pizza is, in fact, the best food ever. Awesome! We all agree. Right? Well, when you look at the details, Google and Verizon are declaring pizza the best food ever as long as it doesn’t have pepperoni and it is only eaten indoors while sitting on folding chairs. All other scenarios are still open to interpretation.

Mashable: The proposal’s points about “additional online services” could be another area of serious contention. In fact, many of the journalists on the conference call expressed concern about it. Verizon and Google have agreed that wireline broadband providers can offer “additional online services” that don’t operate within these rules as long as they are “distinguishable in scope and purpose from broadband Internet access service.”

Jeff Jarvis (former president of Advanced Internet): I am baffled by the Google-Verizon agreement on nonnet-nonneutrality. I’m mostly baffled by why Google would put its name to this. What does it gain? As I see it, the agreement makes two huge carve-outs to neutrality and regulation of the internet: mobile and anything new… Mobile is the internet. Mobile will very soon become a meaningless word when — well, if telcos allow it, that is — we are connected everywhere all the time. Then who cares where you are? Mobile? doesn’t matter. You’re just connected. In your car, in your office, in your bedroom, on the street. You’re connected. To what? To the internet, damnit.

Craig Aaron (Director of Free Press): We need the FCC — with the backing of Congress and President Obama — to step and do the hard work of governing. That means restoring the FCC’s authority to protect Internet users and safeguarding real Net Neutrality once and for all… Such a move might not be popular on Wall Street or even in certain corners of Silicon Valley, but it’s the kind of leadership the public needs right now.

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