Google, Verizon and Net Neutrality

After a year of negotiations, Google and Verizon published a proposal for a set of policies on network neutrality in the US. Both companies agreed that “wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition”, but broadband providers would be able to offer “additional, differentiated online services”. Mobile broadband was exempted from these rules because “the rapidly evolving wireless Internet is a different kind of network, with unique technical and operational challenges, demanding different consideration than wireline networks.”

In a blog post from October 2009, Google and Verizon admitted that they were perceived as two “unlikely bedfellows”. Some of the proposals from the agreement released this week were already agreed at that time, but there was an important disagreement. “While Verizon supports openness across its networks, it believes that there is no evidence of a problem today — especially for wireless — and no basis for new rules and that regulation in the US could have a detrimental effect globally. While Google supports light touch regulation, it believes that safeguards are needed to combat the incentives for carriers to pick winners and losers online.”

Even if some will be quick to say that Google made an important concession by exempting mobile broadband from these rules, Google also managed to convince Verizon that net neutrality rules are necessary and that wireline broadband providers shouldn’t prioritize certain Internet traffic. Google shouldn’t be able to pay an ISP to prioritize the requests to or because that would be an unfair advantage.

Here’s what Google wrote about net neutrality in 2006: “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.”

The agreement between Google and Verizon is not a complete solution for this problem, it’s just a pragmatic first step. “Under this proposal we would NOT NOW apply most of the wireline principles to wireless” suggests that this might change in the future. Sometimes, instead of being inflexible and not managing to solve any real-world problem, it’s better to solve at least part of the problem.