Google denies selling out on ‘net neutrality’
Google tried to derail talk that it has “sold out” on the idea of insuring all data is treated equally when it comes to routing traffic on the Internet.
A legal framework for “net neutrality” proposed this week by Google and US telecom titan Verizon has given rise to “myths” challenging the Internet firm’s devotion to the cause, Google media counsel Richard Whitt said in a blog post on Thursday.
Google has not “sold out” when it comes to net neutrality and the proposal would not exempt wireless Internet connections from rules of fairness regarding handling of digital information, according to Whitt.
“We decided to partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together,” Whitt said.
“We’re not saying this solution is perfect, but we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all.”
The proposed framework would ban “undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content” and give the US Federal Communications Commission exclusive authority to oversee broadband Internet access service.
Efforts to figure out how US regulators should or could keep Internet service providers (ISPs) from giving preferential treatment to some data at the expense of other bytes of information have been fruitless.
In April, a US appeals court dealt a major setback to the FCC’s efforts to force ISPs to treat all Web traffic equally.
The court decided that the FCC had not been granted the legal authority by Congress to regulate the network management practices of ISPs.
“We’re not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could, or should, decide the future of this issue,’ Whitt said.
“We’re simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years.”
The proposal has prompted parties ranging from Internet freedom advocates to online social networking star Facebook and US telecom powerhouse AT&T to weigh in on the topic.
Facebook disagreed with the idea of sparing wireless networks from strict net neutrality rules as proposed by Google and Verizon.
“Facebook continues to support principles of net neutrality for both landline and wireless networks,” the world’s leading online social networking service said in an email response to an AFP inquiry.
Recommending that wireless Internet connections be exempt from net neutrality rules played into fears that Google is changing allegiance in the battle to stop ISPs from giving preferential treatment to those that pay.
“It’s true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services,” Whitt said.
“However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye.”
An AT&T executive told a gathering of investors this week that the proposal was encouraging.
“It’s a positive sign that shows that those two companies can agree on something as different as net neutrality,” said Ralph de la Vega, chief of the telecom firm’s mobile and consumer unit.
Fiber communications colossus Level 3 cautiously endorsed the Google-Verizon framework, but expressed concern about allowing ISPs to offer television or other services on private sections of networks.
Allowing network owners to create a ‘paid priority’ data service raises a number of concerns since contention for limited broadband capacity seems inevitable, he added.
The proposal calls for letting broadband service providers freely offer “additional services” such as Verizon FIOS TV, which is currently available.
“Broadband providers could offer a special gaming channel, or a more secure banking service, or a home health monitoring capability — so long as such offerings are separate and apart from the public Internet,” Whitt said.
“The chief challenge is to let consumers benefit from these non-Internet services, without allowing them to impede on the Internet itself.”
Critics worried that such services might become a non-public parallel wireless Internet where data could get special handling.
“While there is much to praise in the Verizon-Google statement, there are also areas that require more attention,” Level 3 chief of regulator affairs said in a release.