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Google and Verizon Announce Net Neutrality Agreement

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August 09, 2010

Google and Verizon Announce Net Neutrality Agreement

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

Verizon and Google (News - Alert) have released their suggested legislative framework for network neutrality rules. Its key provisions are a wireless exemption, net neutrality for "best effort" Internet access, but an ability to create new walled garden services with enhanced quality-of-service features.

The companies agree that there should be a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices. This means that for the first time, 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. If I read this correctly, "best effort" Internet access, the normal form of service consumers buy, could not feature "Akamai (News - Alert)-style" content delivery measures, as applied by an Internet Service Provider, though application owners would be free to use the techniques as they choose.

The practical implication would seem to be that an app provider could itself decide to market best effort and enhanced-quality versions of its applications, when it chooses.

The new proposed nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic, including paid prioritization, as applied by any ISP.

In addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic. That is a key provision.

The proposal, however, also would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's (News - Alert) FIOS TV) offered today. Such "managed services" would not be traditional "Internet access" or "broadband access" services, but rather new and separate services.

The Google-Verizon proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such new online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules.

The FCC (News - Alert) would also monitor the development of these services to make sure they don’t interfere with the continued development of Internet access services.

Wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, so the proposal refrains from applying new rules to wireless networks and services.

The Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

Both firms agree also about enforceable transparency rules, for both wireline and wireless services. Broadband providers would be required to give consumers clear, understandable information about the services they offer and their capabilities.

The two firms also call for new ability by the FCC to enforce these openness policies on a case-by-case basis, using a complaint-driven process. The FCC could move swiftly to stop a practice that violates these safeguards, and it could impose a penalty of up to $2 million on bad actors.

Both firms support reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund, so that it is focused on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available.

Both companies say they favor turning the Federal Communications Commission's "Internet Freedoms" principles into enforceable rules.Those principles, already in place, stipulate that consumers have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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