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Google and Verizon Announce Joint Net Neutrality Policies

in Mobile Broadband/Net Neutrality/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, August 9, 2010- Google and Verizon have announced a joint statement of principles on network neutrality and hosted a conference call Monday to outline their effort to the press. Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg announced that this new policy calls for an open and transparent wireline internet with special conditions given to the “burgeoning wireless market.”

This announcement comes after a week of speculation that Google would receive priority service on the Verizon network; a statement which both CEOs claim is false. In fact, a key element in their statement is that paid prioritization should be banned. Additionally, these principles are simply a joint statement of an adoption of new policies and not a business agreement made between the firms.

Primarily, the proposal calls for an open internet enabling users to run their choice of applications. They support the FCC’s current openness principles and said the commission should have the authority to enforce them. The filling proposes a fine of up to $2 million for violators.

In order to enforce the openness, consumers must be given more information about their service.

“Broadband providers would be required to give consumers clear, understandable information about the services they offer and their capabilities. Broadband providers would also provide to application and content providers information about network management practices and any other information they need to ensure that they can reach consumers,“ according to the proposal. This would be a requirement of both the wireline and wireless services.

They also recognize that with the growth of the infrastructure, new services will become available which should have to follow these rules. Specifically they highlighted a smart grid and television services. This led to a fair bit of confusion during the call when reporters asked what these new services would be and why they would not be on the open internet. Seidenberg gave the example of possibly offering 3-D television service, which would be so intensive that they would use special access on the network and not be on the open internet.

Additionally, in the policy statement they distinguish educational and healthcare applications along with gaming as possible “purpose specific” applications which may choose not to be on the open internet. This leaves the possibility for giving these applications special access with faster speeds over networks.

Wireless access however is something which should not be subject to the open internet rueles. The firms both believe that due to its technical differences and the fact that the networks are still being established. They propose having the Government Accountability Office review the state of the wireless networks to determine if users are facing discrimination.

Their final proposal is supporting the idea that broadband should be included in the Universal Service Fund. “We strongly believe that it is in the national interest for all Americans to have broadband access to the Internet. Therefore, we support reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund, so that it is focused on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available,” the executives said.

When asked if other internet service providers were consulted about their proposal, Seidenberg said they told others about the joint statement but no other firm choose to join them. Additionally, they met with the FCC about this agreement and are waiting for the agency response.

In a blog post, Susan Crawford, former special assistant to the president for science, technology and innovation policy, said this deal is the result of a policy vacuum due to inaction by the FCC. “The key takeaway from today’s announcement is that it underscores the urgency of FCC action to ensure that it has jurisdiction to speak to American companies about high-speed Internet access. As someone told me today - snappy line - the agency is being disintermediated.”

Public Knowledge released a statement which said in part: “Under the Google-Verizon definition of network neutrality, wireless companies would only have to be transparent about their network practices – meaning that they could block any application, content or service so long as they told consumers they were doing so. And while there would be no pay for priority on the best efforts Internet, there are almost no limits on so-called “managed services,” other than that they would need to be “distinguishable in purpose and scope,” from the Internet. Thus, it is conceivable under the agreement that a network provider could devote 90 percent of its broadband capacity to these priority services and 10% to the best efforts Internet. If managed services are allowed to cannibalize the best efforts Internet, whatever protections are agreed to for the latter become, for all intents and purposes, meaningless.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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