Did Net Neutrality Just Get Knifed in The Back?

A long time ago, I offered to make a bet with a friend that when commercial interests would collide with the broader interests such as network neutrality, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google would do what any large company does: do what is right for its commercial interests. I should have made that bet. I would have won.

Today, news emerged that Google has reached an agreement with Verizon over Internet traffic management. It is the first step in what would amount to the slow asphyxiation of network neutrality. While Verizon and Google are keeping mum, in response to the news, Federal Communication Commission said: “The broad stakeholder discussions continue to actively include Google and Verizon.” The FCC is in closed-door conversations with different players — from Internet companies like Google (s GOOG) to carriers such as Verizon (s VZ) and AT&T (s T).

According to the Washington Post:

Google and Verizon’s agreement would prevent Verizon from offering paid prioritization to the biggest bidders of capacity on its DSL and fiber networks, according to the sources. But any promises over open-Internet access wouldn’t apply to mobile phones, the sources said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the companies have not officially made their announcement. According to the sources, Verizon and Google have met separately to come to an agreement they will tout as an example of successful self-regulation.

Politico offers more details:

Sources familiar with the agreement tell Politico it would prevent Verizon from blocking traffic, but would allow it to prioritize certain traffic—such as premium services that would speed up movie downloads, for example – as long as doing so does not harm consumers.

This agreement shouldn’t come as a surprise. The two companies are becoming increasingly close of late. Google is trying to make Android a major player in the mobile world. One of the company’s closest partners in this effort, in the U.S., is Verizon Wireless. It would therefore make sense that the two will come to some sort of an agreement. The news has clearly riled up a lot of folks in Washington, D.C. Free Press President and CEO Josh Silver said:

“Two of the largest companies – Google and Verizon – have reportedly agreed to abandon consumer protections, filter content and limit choice and free speech on the mobile Internet. If true, the deal is a bold grab for market power by two monopolistic players. Such abuse of the open Internet would put to final rest the Google mandate to ‘do no evil.’ The financial interests of Google appear to have finally trumped its belief in policies to preserve the open Internet. A deal with Verizon cements its market power, and could make it more difficult for new app developers and software entrepreneurs to reach consumers.”

A coalition of public interest groups that included Public Knowledge, New America Foundation, Media Access Project and Free Press issued this statement:

As the major public interest groups in Washington involved in the struggle to protect an open Internet, we are united in our dismay about an agreement reportedly reached by Verizon and Google.   It is unseemly and inappropriate for two giant companies to decide the future of the Internet and how Internet will work for millions of users.  It would be inappropriate for Congress and the FCC policy makers to use this agreement as the basis for public policy.

“The public and policymakers should not be fooled.  This agreement cannot be enforced by any governmental agency and will provide no protection against the types of abuse we seen from large Internet Service Providers.  The Internet belongs to all of us, not to Verizon and Google.  There is widespread public support for an open Internet.

“We call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to abandon its ‘negotiations’ with Google, Verizon and other large companies. Instead, the Commission should move ahead with legally enforceable, binding rulemaking that would govern not only the open Internet, but also ensure the Commission’s authority to reform Universal Service, and to make policy in cybersecurity, privacy, device compatibility and other critical issues involving broadband services.”