A View from Erica Naone

What Google and Verizon Were Really Up To

The companies release a proposal for legislation supporting an open Internet–with one big loophole.

  • August 9, 2010

Google and Verizon have released a joint proposal for legislation supporting an open Internet, refuting claims that the two companies were working on a deal that would let Google pay Verizon for special treatment for its content.

The companies laid out seven major points that they hoped the legislation would address. Many were aimed at issues relating to net neutrality.

In particular, the companies say their proposed legislation would forbid the type of agreement they were accused of making:

This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition.

Importantly, this new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic - including paid prioritization. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic.

The proposed legislation would include a proviso that broadband providers could offer “additional, differentiated online services,” possibly including “health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options.” They note that protections would be in place to make sure these services weren’t used to get around net neutrality laws.

However, it still sounds like the companies are leaving a loophole. As the companies write:

We both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

It sounds like things are being left open so that wireless carriers could still manipulate traffic, though the proposal states that carriers should be monitored and it should be easy for consumers to find out what’s going on.

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