Faced with criticism by neutrality advocates, Google on Thursday defended its joint proposal with Verizon for a plan to manage Internet traffic.
"We believe this proposal represents real progress on what has become a very contentious issue," Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, wrote on the company's blog.
On Monday, Google and Verizon unveiled a joint proposal for a law to ban Internet service providers from degrading or prioritizing traffic over the so-called public Internet, but would allow companies to pay extra for delivery of specialized services. The proposal doesn't define those specialized services, but says examples could include health care monitoring and new entertainment and gaming options. The proposal also would not require wireless carriers to follow neutrality rules.
Advocacy groups quickly condemned the plan, saying that it could create two separate Internets -- a public Web for the type of content that is now available, and a separate, fast-lane Internet for managed services. But Google's Whitt argues that enacting some neutrality rules -- even if limited -- is preferable to the status quo, given that the Federal Communications Commission currently has no power to prevent ISPs from blocking traffic.
"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," Whitt wrote. "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."
Whitt also said that the companies were not proposing a mandate for wireless neutrality because "the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from."
The plan drew much attention by neutrality advocates and other groups, including the Writers Guild of America, East. That group said it opposed a different set of rules for the public Internet and managed services. "This semantic sleight of hand seeks to prioritize online content, granting privilege and advantage to those content creators with deeper pockets who would like nothing better than to destroy the concept of net neutrality," the group said.
The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said any carve-out for specialized services should be on a case-by-case basis. "There may be some services that need traffic prioritization, such as urgent medical services, but the approach in the proposal creates no real limits," the EFF said. "It would be much better if space for these services was addressed through waivers or other processes that put the burden on the company suggesting such services to prove that they are needed."
Many consumer advocates also have criticized the plan's lack of neutrality restrictions for wireless carriers.