Google and Verizon Conspire to Kill Net Neutrality

Producer: Stevie Converse and Candace Clement
Media Minutes for August 13, 2010

Google and Verizon announced an agreement on a joint "policy framework" this week that, if enacted, would kill Net Neutrality, the long-standing principle that keeps the Internet open and free from discrimination.

Although Google claims it still favors an open Internet, the terms of the deal suggest otherwise. Free Press Political Adviser Joel Kelsey explains why this is much worse than a business deal between the two giants:

Joel Kelsey: They're providing what they believe to be a framework for federal broadband policy to apply to the Internet. And in this regard, it's much more dangerous. This is literally industry writing the rules for themselves.

The Google and Verizon proposal would allow broadband providers to offer various so- called managed services, which would have the effect of splitting the open Internet into two pipes. Kelsey worries that opening the door to such exclusive commercial arrangements could undermine the open Internet.

Joel Kelsey: Those exclusive arrangements that are struck would increasingly make the Internet look much more like a cable system or cable offering to consumers, where each individual subscriber has to buy through different tiers of service at different price points in order to get the content that they like. So in effect, if you don't narrowly define managed service -- which the Google and Verizon deal does not - then you end up creating this kind of own private Internet that's not the public Internet where all the goods and services that drives demand on the current open Internet is shifted into a pay- to-play system and makes it very hard for innovators and entrepreneurs to compete.

In this scenario, exclusive deals could restrict user choice and reduce competition for new and better services - like a new YouTube or Facebook cutting a deal with a single ISP. Users could be billed for each feature they want to access.

Joel Kelsey: If you look at what the history of cable taught us, if you look at what the history of - in some regards - wireless service has taught us, it's that when the carriers are able to leverage their market power and monetize every little feature of the phone or service to extract more money from consumers, they absolutely will.

Only the future will tell what kind of business deals would be struck, and that, says Kelsey, is part of the problem with this deal.

Joel Kelsey: You know, instead of playing with a half-baked idea and ill-defining it in federal statute, we should make sure that the FCC has the power to monitor and to intervene when necessary if managed services end up eating into the free and open Internet and impacting the investment incentives that so far has been such a recipe for success.

Google and Verizon's proposal, however, would strip the FCC of any authority over the Internet. Penalties for infractions would top out a $2 million - chump change for mega companies that rake in billions in profits per year.

Joel Kelsey: The Google-Verizon deal completely undermines the authority of the FCC to make rules when it comes to the open Internet, and actually directs them to defer to an independent, neutral body that is most likely comprised of industry players.

The proposal also explicitly bans Net Neutrality from wireless networks, allowing for everything from outright blocking of websites and applications to priority treatment for those who can pay the highest price. Kelsey says that this could be devastating for consumers.

Joel Kelsey: It's all one Internet. Consumers access the Internet, direct their browsers to particular websites, and it shouldn't really matter whether they're connecting via a wireless Internet connection or a wireline Internet connection. They should be able to choose all of the products, services and software that they want, regardless of the technology that they use to connect to the Internet. So the idea that consumers should face different opportunities, different restrictions, different monetary policies, have to pay more to download services and applications to visit particular websites when they surf the Internet wirelessly, to us, it really impacts the future of mobile broadband.

For more information on Net Neutrality and the Google-Verizon proposal, go to SavetheInternet.com