Last week, the New York Times showcased a story which implied Google and Verizon were coming to an agreement that would end net neutrality. Both Verizon and Googledenied that claim, although indicating they were working on something. On Monday, the two corporations revealed the fruits of their labor: a joint proposal for how the FCC should handle net neutrality.
Indeed, it was not the dissolving of the concept of net neutrality that the two firms were working on, but rather the fostering of it, exactly the opposite of what was feared. Net neutrality has been the guiding principle of the Internet until now, meaning that all content, regardless of its source, has the same "priority" as any other content. It was feared that Verizon and Google were coming to terms on something that would accelerate, say, YouTube content above others (as an example).
Instead, the companies' policy statement said they were guided by the two following principles:
Users should choose what content, applications, or devices they use, since openness has been central to the explosive innovation that has made the Internet a transformative medium.
America must continue to encourage both investment and innovation to support the underlying broadband infrastructure; it is imperative for our global competitiveness.
Thing is, none of the policy suggestions would take effect unless made law. The Comcast court ruling that seemingly weakened the FCC's power over broadband, made sure of that. Thus, the proposal serves to spell out the FCC's role in broadband, including an up to $2 million fine on bad actors against open Internet.
The companies would want any new principles to be enforceable, and to include "a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic" (i.e., pro-net neutrality). Transparency for both wired and wireless carriers would be increased.
This all sounds wonderful, but of course these are corporations, and huge ones at that, which leads cynicism to come into play. After all, being corporations, the two companies must place their stockholders first above "doing good."
There's also this one paragraph which, considering the relationship between Google and Verizon in the wireless (read: Android) space, seems a little suspicious:
[...] we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement.
The obvious question is, why does a rapidly changing wireless world mean that it shouldn't have the same net neutrality requirements as wired broadband? Since wireless broadband seems overstretched by data-centric devices like the iPhone, Evo 4G, Vibrant and Droid X, it would seem this loophole would leave a way for carriers to charge more for data-intensive apps on their smartphones.
Still, excepting perhaps that loophole, the proposal seems, on the whole, well thought out. Additionally, both Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg and Google CEO Eric Schmidt were clear in stating that there is no business arrangement between the two companies. Their discussions have been limited to formulating the joint policy proposals to be presented to the FCC.
The Verizon-Google framework document is embedded below.