updated 03:00 pm EDT, Mon August 9, 2010
Google to sacrifice wireless for neutrality win
Google and Verizon this afternoon outlined their widely rumored proposal for net neutrality guidelines. As expected, the terms would focus on wired controls but would sacrifice fairness in wireless to reach the goal. The FCC would be the only official body and would have authority to ban both blocking or throttling legal traffic as well as limit prioritization of certain content, but only on wired networks.
Both wired and wireless networks would have a requirement for transparency, which would require any carrier to clearly disclose how it shapes traffic and other limits on the network. Wired services could have special services such as IPTV, but these would have to be clearly separated from general Internet access so they aren't used as forms of cheating the neutrality rules, the two companies said.
The Universal Service Fund would, as proposed by the FCC, be converted from wired phones to broadband.
Google justified the exception of cellular networks by describing wireless data as a "still-nascent" business, whose circumstances are "more competitive and changing rapidly" compared to the entrenched wired environment. It did promise that the Government Accountability Office, in this interpretation, would have to report to Congress every year on whether current measures are properly protecting customers.
The statements are likely to draw controversy if, as accepted, they would give carriers like Verizon free rein to discriminate against legitimate service that would compete with its own services. It would have legal support for banning VoIP to force customers to use its own cellular minutes, for example, or prevent streaming Internet video from a third party in favor of a paid subscription to its own plans. Verizon has been willing to use more open platforms such as Android but has already neutered functionality by preventing Skype calls over 3G.
Google's motivations behind the deal have already been called into question. The search firm is heavily dependent on Verizon for Android phone sales and would stand to lose significant market share and mobile ad revenue if its carrier partner backed away.
The proposal isn't binding and may face opposition from the FCC itself. Chairman Julius Genachowski has said that Google and Verizon suggestions wouldn't necessarily influence policy as he was concerned about preserving net neutrality regardless of what either company thought was best.