The Google-Verizon Net Neutrality Pact

Eric Schmidt/Ivan Seidenberg

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg hosted a conference call Monday to discuss an open Internet just days after the Federal Communications Commission abandoned efforts to reach a compromise. The proposal aims to derail unlawful discriminatory practices and gives regulators the authority to stop offenders.

While the two companies published the terms of the Google-Verizon "A Joint Policy for an Open Internet" agreement in a blog post, the plan does not treat wireless and wireline network access equally.

Both Schmidt and Seidenberg emphasized that there is no formal agreement based on the proposal. It simply represents suggestions to "the public policy arena to see how we can move our industry forward," says Seidenberg, emphasizing that the agreement stands for innovation.

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The seven-element proposal would:

1) Make the FCC's wireline broadband openness principles fully enforceable.

2) Establish a new enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices for wireline broadband Internet services, so wireline broadband providers cannot discriminate against or prioritize lawwful Internet content, apps or services in a way that causes harm to consumers or competition.

3) Create enforceable transparency obligations for both wireline and wireless services.

4) Clarify confusion in the broadband space with enforceable consumer protection standards.

5) Allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services in addition to the Internet access and video services like Verizon's FIOS TV.

6) Provide safeguards that promote transparency that gives consumers a clear understanding of what they purchase.

7) Support reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund, so it focuses on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available.

One point would allow ISPs to prioritize managed services. Google and Verizon pointed to health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options as "differentiated online services."

Not all see the Google-Verizon proposal as good news. Media Access Project SVP and Policy Director Andrew Jay Schwartzman believes the Google-Verizon plan falls short of protecting American Internet users' needs. Aside from the proposal leaving many unanswered questions, Schwartzman thinks it flat out leaves wireless users without protection, and puts a "nearly insurmountable burden" on consumers to prove harm.

Public Knowledge also weighed in. "The agreement between Verizon and Google about how to manage Internet traffic is nothing more than a private agreement between two corporate behemoths, and should not be a template or basis for either Congressional or FCC action," says Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. "It is unenforceable and does almost nothing to preserve an open Internet. Most critically, it sacrifices the future of the mobile wireless Internet as this platform becomes more central to the lives of all Americans."

Public outrage in reaction to initial reports of this agreement should come as a sign to the FCC and Congress that the public wants the FCC to protect an open Internet and ensure that the next Google, the next Facebook, the next Twitter and the next Wikipedia can succeed, Sohn says. The open policies also create a fundamental issue regarding whether all Americans will have affordable access to broadband service.

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