Google and Verizon's Worrisome Proposal For Net Neutrality

Last week, reports swirled that Verizon and Google had struck a deal to effectively end net neutrality. Today the companies offered their somewhat troubling suggestions for net neutrality policy, all the while pledging their commitment to the "open internet."

On a call this afternoon, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg made one thing quite clear: last week's reports that there was a business relationship between the companies were "false, misleading, and not correct." But the companies have discussed the future of the internet at length, and they've outlined several principles for the FCC to consider moving forward. Here they are, as explained in the call and in a post on Google's Public Policy blog:

• Google feels strongly that the internet as we know it, delivered via wired broadband services, should remain neutral in terms of content, and traffic should not be discriminated nor blocked. In short: net neutrality should be enforced over existing wired networks.

• Wireless carriers would be exempt from these strict net neutrality rules, as they have the need to be more flexible in their network management. Still, here, Verizon says that transparency is paramount and the FCC would have the authority to fine "bad actors" in this case.

• Verizon agrees with these tenets but holds out exception for future services that would not be transmitted over the "open internet." By way of example, Seidenberg proposed a situation in which the Metropolitan Opera could pay to deliver its archive in 3D over FiOS TV. Dismissing last week's popular scenario, Schmidt said flatly that Google has no interest in putting YouTube, or anything else, on any network other than the "open internet."

Throughout the call, Verizon and Google stressed their commitment to an "open internet," and it's clear that the product of Google and Verizon's talks was not quite the doomsday scenario that was outlined last week. Still, Verizon's distinction of wireless and wired networks, and their insistence on leaving the possibility open for prioritizing traffic on future services, could be a cause for concern down the line.

As Peter Kafka notes, reporters on the call quickly took to calling these new services the "private internet," and while the opera example might seem innocuous enough, and while YouTube might not have any plans to transmit its content over a "private internet," if other "open web" services (like, say, Hulu) are allowed to pay for priority, things could get sticky fast.

And while it's all well and good that both companies agree that the internet as it exists now, delivered largely over wired networks, should remain open and equal, Verizon's notion that wireless carriers shouldn't have to play by those same rules is troubling to say the least. As internet usage shifts increasingly to mobile devices on wireless networks—a shift that we saw coming months ago and one that will soon accelerate as actually-fast 4G networks are put in place—wireless net neutrality issues will simply be the net neutrality issues.

Of course, this is just what Google and Verizon envision for the future, and I'm sure that the unsavory possibility of a "private internet," as well as the dangers of giving carriers free reign to juggle the content on their wireless networks, won't be lost on the FCC. For a minute by minute rundown of the call, head over to the NYT. [Google Public Policy Blog]