Google and Verizon call for net neutrality compromise

Google and US telco Verizon have announced details of a joint policy proposal that they claim will “protect the future openness of the internet and encourage the rapid deployment of broadband”. The move follows speculation that the pair were working on a deal that could potentially see some internet traffic, such as for example Google’s YouTube, given priority on Verizon’s network in return for payment.

In relation to the question of network neutrality, a hot political topic in the US in particular, Google and Verizon describe their agreement as a “compromise” that will enable users to be able to choose what content, applications and devices they use while encouraging investment and innovation in broadband infrastructure.

Google and Verizon have called on the principle of openness in wireline networks to be enshrined in law and protected by regulator the FCC. The background to this is the April Federal appeals court ruling in a case brought by cable giant Comcast that regulators had limited power over web traffic under current US law, giving internet service providers the ability to block or slow specific sites and charge sites (such as, for example, YouTube) to deliver content faster. Google and Verizon’s statement of principles holds that “in addition to not blocking or degrading of internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favour particular internet traffic over other traffic”. The pair have called on the FCC to given authority to enforce openness policies on a case-by-case basis, with the ability to impose a penalty of up to US$2m (€1.5m) on companies that infringed it.

However, Google and Verizon have also called for broadband service providers to be allowed “to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the internet access and video services – such as Verizon’s FiOS TV – offered today”. These service, which could include health care monitoring, educational services and new entertainment and gaming options, the pair say, should be “distinguishable from traditional broadband internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules”.

Google and Verizon say these principles (save that of “transparency” in disclosing what policies are applied to internet traffic) should not currently be applied to wireless internet service providers, where competition is more intense in any case. This, along with the suggestion that “differentiated online services” should be exempt from the net neutrality principle, is most likely to cause controversy. Verizon is a major provider of wireless access in the US, as well as a wireline internet service provider, while privilege granted to loosely defined “differentiated” services could, some observers argue, be the basis for a two-tier internet.