Google Won’t Violate Net Neutrality if It Can Redefine It First
The Internet has thrived in an environment of minimal regulation. While our two companies don’t agree on every issue, we do agree generally as a matter of policy that the framework of minimal government involvement should continue.
— Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, Unleashing American Broadband, Wall Street Journal March 2010
Once bitter opponents in the net neutrality debate, Google (GOOG) and Verizon (VZ) reportedly are now allies in a joint proposal that they hope will be a model for network neutrality legislation. Sources tell the New York Times and others that the two companies have been in talks with the Federal Communications Commission to hammer out a compromise that would allow Internet service providers to prioritize certain traffic on their wireless networks as long as they don’t prioritize it on their wired networks — a textbook violation of net neutrality, which stipulates that no network traffic is favored over any other.
It’s surprising then to hear that Google, a longtime advocate of the principle, supports this compromise, though perhaps that shouldn’t be such a surprise, given the company’s close business relationship with Verizon (a leading Android carrier), its faux-altruism, and its shifting definition of net neutrality, which CEO Eric Schmidt helpfully laid out for us yesterday at the Techonomy conference.
“People get confused about net neutrality,” he said. “I want to make sure that everybody understands what we mean about it. What we mean is that if you have one data type, like video, you don’t discriminate against one person’s video in favor of another. It’s OK to discriminate across different types.”
A helpful clarification, particularly for folks who’ve read some of Schmidt’s other commentary on this issue.
The Internet as we know it is facing a serious threat. There’s a debate heating up in Washington, DC on something called “net neutrality” – and it’s a debate that’s so important Google is asking you to get involved. We’re asking you to take action to protect Internet freedom.
In the next few days, the House of Representatives is going to vote on a bill that would fundamentally alter the Internet. That bill, and one that may come up for a key vote in the Senate in the next few weeks, would give the big phone and cable companies the power to pick and choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet.
Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.
Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight.
Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access to everyone else. On the Internet, a business doesn’t need the network’s permission to communicate with a customer or deploy an innovative new service. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all broadband Internet access, want the power to choose who gets onto the high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build tollbooths to block the on-ramps for those whom they don’t want to compete with and who can’t pay this new Internet tax. Money and monopoly, not ideas and independence, will be the currency of their Internet.
Under the proposed “pay-to-play” system, small- and medium-sized businesses will be placed at an automatic disadvantage to their larger competitors. Those who cannot afford the new Internet tax – or who want to compete directly with the phone and cable companies – will be marginalized by slower Internet access that will inevitably make their sites less accessible, and therefore less appealing.
Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Imagine an Internet in which your access to customers is constrained by your ability to cut a deal with the carriers.
Yes, I guess “people do get confused about net neutrality.”
UPDATE: Google and Verizon would like us all to know that while they may be talking about a compromise, that compromise is not a business arrangement. The Google Public Policy account on Twitter tweeted: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.” And on its Policy blog, Verizon said, “The NYT article regarding conversations between Google and Verizon is mistaken. It fundamentally misunderstands our purpose. As we said in our earlier FCC filing, our goal is an Internet policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation. To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect.”
Chairman Julius Genachowski declined to comment on the specifics of the reports, but said, “Any outcome, any deal that doesn’t preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet for consumers and entrepreneurs will be unacceptable.”