The Google-Verizon Proposal
Google and Verizon CEOs issued a joint proposal for controlling traffic on the Internet. The proposal is aimed at two main goals: maintaining an open Internet and continuing investment in the broadband infrastructure.
They say Internet service providers (ISPs) should:
- Not be able to block any legal content, applications, or devices
- Not be able to discriminate against or give priority to any legal content
- Be required to disclose accurate information in plain language about what their networks offer and how they’re managed
- Be able to engage in reasonable network management to safeguard security and quality
- Be able to offer additional online services that are different from regular Internet access
They also say that wireless broadband providers should be exempt from these requirements, except for the disclosure rule for maintaining transparency. They recommend that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have the authority to enforce these requirements through individual actions and fines of up to $2 million.
Criticism of the Plan
The Google-Verizon proposal was immediately met with a blast of protests from bloggers, public interest groups and members of Congress. Critics say excluding wireless providers from the non-discrimination rules and allowing additional online services completely undermines the idea of net neutrality. It could result in a two-tiered Internet with a fast-lane for content from companies like Google that can afford to pay for priority treatment.
Four Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the FCC urging the agency to reject the Google-Verizon proposal to ensure the maintenance of a free and open Internet.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called off closed-meeting negotiations with big Internet companies that were intended to map out rules for net neutrality. FCC officials met with representatives of AT&T, Verizon, Skype, Google, and others to discuss ways to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or favoring certain content that flows across the Web.
An FCC official said the talks were productive on several fronts. The FCC was criticized, however, for trying to broker deals with big companies without sufficient public input. Critics said it was like inviting the fox in to guard the henhouse.
The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Julius Genachowski followed through on President Obama campaign promises to protect the free flow of traffic across the Internet. This week he proposed the formal adoption of FCC rules for net neutrality.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should flow freely, regardless of its type, volume, source or destination. Advocates say that net neutrality is important to maintain the Internet as a democratic medium that promotes innovation, competition, and free speech.
Almost 75% of Americans have Internet access from their homes. Most connect through subscriptions with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as Comcast. Net neutrality rules are intended to prevent ISPs from discriminating against the content that flows through their networks and that ISP's should not prioritize, block or delay traffic whatever its content.
Net Neutrality Principles
The FCC proposes six basic principles that would apply to cable and wireless ISP's:
- Consumers can access any lawful Internet content
- Consumers can run any applications and services
- Consumers can connect to any legal devices that don't harm the network
- Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers
- Broadband providers can't discriminate against particular Internet content or applications; they can't block or slow content from competitors
- ISPs must be open and transparent about their network management practices
Consumer groups say the new rules prevent big telecommunication companies from controlling what consumers access online.
Service providers object to the new rules. They say they need leeway to prioritize content in order to manage their bandwidth.
AT&T Accuses Google of Non-Net Neutrality
Last week, communications giant AT&T complained to the FCC that Google was violating net neutrality rules by blocking Google Voice service calls to some rural areas. In 2007, the FCC prevented AT&T and other phone companies from blocking calls to the same numbers because it interfered with customers' rights to call numbers of their choice.
Google Voice is an Internet-based service that forwards phone calls. Google argues the service isn't covered by FCC telephone rules because you still need another traditional telephone to use it. According to AT&T, by blocking the calls, Google has an unfair advantage over the telephone companies that offer competing services at higher prices.
Google asserts that "open Internet principles apply only to the behavior of broadband carriers - not the creators of Web-based software applications. Even though the FCC does not have jurisdiction over how software applications function, AT&T apparently wants to use the regulatory process to undermine Web-based competition and innovation."1
Debating Net Neutrality Policy
FCC Chairman Genachowski promises fair consideration of the issues concerning a free and open Internet. To join the discussion and learn more about the FCC's rulemaking activities, visit www.openinternet.gov.
1Google's Response to AT & T's Letter to FCC on Google Voice, http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/, accessed September 29, 2009.