by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Aug 9, 2010
Google and US telecom titan Verizon on Monday proposed a legal framework to safeguard "net neutrality" but said the rules should not apply to wireless broadband Internet connections.
"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," the companies said in a joint statement.
"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."
Google and Verizon laid out a plan for US legislators to create laws aimed at preventing Internet service providers from violating "net neutrality" by giving some data priority over other digital information.
Recommending that wireless Internet connections be exempt from net neutrality rules played into fears that Google is changing allegiance in the battle to stop Internet service providers (ISPs) from giving preferential treatment to those that pay.
"Mobile is the future, and mobile is wireless," California high school student Mitchell Kernot reasoned. "So, what they are saying is the future isn't net neutral."
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials declined to comment.
The proposed framework would ban "undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content" and give the FCC the power to impose "a forfeiture" of as much as two million dollars for each violation.
The FCC would have exclusive authority to oversee broadband Internet access service but would not have power over online applications, content or services.
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.
"(Google and Verizon) have long been proponents of the FCC's current wireline broadband openness principles," the companies said.
"Our proposal would now make those principles fully enforceable at the FCC."
The proposal calls for letting broadband service providers freely offer "additional services" such as Verizon FIOS TV, which is currently available.
"This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services," the companies said.
"It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options."
Critics worried that such services might become a non-public parallel wireless Internet where data could get special handling.
The Eastern division of the Writers Guild of America decried the proposal, saying it would split the Internet into a zone for the masses and another for elite that could pay for preferred data handling.
"We urge Congress and the FCC to scrutinize this backdoor method of prioritizing Internet content carefully and to see it for the violation of liberty and creativity that it is," guild director Lowell Peterson and president Michael Winship said in a statement.
The proposal could simply be ignored by the FCC.
"Net neutrality is the way Google is trying to spin it, but today's message has nothing to do with neutrality," said independent technology analyst Carmi Levy. "It opens the door to a less neutral Internet in the future."
The proposal contains some good principles but "falls short," said Center for Democracy and Technology president Leslie Harris.
"The companies' plan puts wireless Internet service into a regulatory no-go zone and offers only toothless protection for the open Internet against the voracious expansion of so-called 'additional services,'" Harris said.
The chiefs of Google and Verizon hosted a call with the press to say their goal was to defend net neutrality.
"Preserving the open Internet is very important to Google," chief executive Eric Schmidt said.
"The open Internet makes it possible for the next Google to be created."
Schmidt and his counterpart at Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, were adamant that they were not up to tricks or back room deals.
"There is no prioritization of traffic that would come from Google under any circumstances on the Internet, period," Seidenberg said. "As far as we are concerned, there would be no paid prioritization of traffic on the Internet."
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