Over the past few days there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding the announcement of a policy proposal on network neutrality that has been put together with Verizon. On balance, I believe this proposal represents real progress on what has become a very contentious issue, and I think it could help move the network neutrality debate forward constructively.
MYTH: Google has “sold out” on network neutrality.
FACT: Google has been the leading corporate voice on the issue of network neutrality over the past five years. No other company is working as tirelessly for an open Internet.
But given political realities, this particular issue has been intractable in Washington for several years now. At this time there are no enforceable protections – at the Federal Communications Commission or anywhere else – against even the worst forms of carrier discrimination against Internet traffic.
With that in mind, we decided to partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together. 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.
MYTH: This proposal represents a step backwards for the open Internet.
FACT: If adopted, this proposal would for the first time give the FCC the ability to preserve the open Internet through enforceable rules on broadband providers. At the same time, the FCC would be prohibited from imposing regulations on the Internet itself.
Here are some of the tangible benefits in our joint legislative proposal:
- Newly enforceable FCC standards
- Prohibitions against blocking or degrading wireline Internet traffic
- Prohibition against discriminating against wireline Internet traffic in ways that harm users or competition
- Presumption against all forms of prioritizing wireline Internet traffic
- Full transparency across wireline and wireless broadband platforms
- Clear FCC authority to adjudicate user complaints, and impose injunctions and fines against bad actors
Verizon has agreed to voluntarily abide by these same requirements going forward – another first for a major communications provider. We hope this action will convince other broadband companies to follow suit.
MYTH: This proposal would eliminate network neutrality over wireless.
FACT: 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. 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.
Why? First, the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from. Second, because wireless networks employ airwaves, rather than wires, and share constrained capacity among many users, these carriers need to manage their networks more actively. Third, network and device openness is now beginning to take off as a significant business model in this space.
In our proposal, we agreed that the best first step is for wireless providers to be fully transparent with users about how network traffic is managed to avoid congestion, or prioritized for certain applications and content. Our proposal also asks the Federal government to monitor and report regularly on the state of the wireless broadband market. Importantly, Congress would always have the ability to step in and impose new safeguards on wireless broadband providers to protect consumers’ interests.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the future of wireless broadband increasingly will be found in the advanced, 4th generation (4G) networks now being constructed. Verizon will begin rolling out its 4G network this fall under openness license conditions that Google helped persuade the FCC to adopt. Clearwire is already providing 4G service in some markets, operating under a unique wholesale/openness business model. So consumers across the country are beginning to experience open Internet wireless platforms, which we hope will be enhanced and encouraged by our transparency proposal.
MYTH: This proposal will allow broadband providers to “cannibalize” the public Internet.
FACT: Another aspect of the joint proposal would allow broadband providers to offer certain specialized services to customers, services which are not part of the Internet. So, for example, 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. Some broadband providers already offer these types of services today. The chief challenge is to let consumers benefit from these non-Internet services, without allowing them to impede on the Internet itself.
We have a number of key protections in the proposal to protect the public Internet:
- First, the broadband provider must fully comply with the consumer protection and nondiscrimination standards governing its Internet access service before it could pursue any of these other online service opportunities.
- Second, these services must be “distinguishable in purpose and scope” from Internet access, so that they cannot over time supplant the best effort Internet.
- Third, the FCC retains its full capacity to monitor these various service offerings, and to intervene where necessary to ensure that robust, unfettered broadband capacity is allocated to Internet access.
So we believe there would be more than adequate tools in place to help guard against the “cannibalization” of the public Internet.
MYTH: Google is working with Verizon on this because of Android.
FACT: This is a policy proposal – not a business deal. Of course, Google has a close business relationship with Verizon, but ultimately this proposal has nothing to do with Android. Folks certainly should not be surprised by the announcement of this proposal, given our prior public policy work with Verizon on network neutrality, going back to our October 2009 blog post, our January 2010 joint FCC filing, and our April 2010 op-ed.
MYTH: Two corporations are legislating the future of the Internet.
FACT: Our two companies are proposing a legislative framework to the Congress for its consideration. We hope all stakeholders will weigh in and help shape the framework to move us all forward. We’re not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could – or should – decide the future of this issue. We’re simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years.
It’s up to Congress, the FCC, other policymakers – and the American public – to take it from here. Whether you favor our proposal or not, we urge you to take your views directly to your Senators and Representatives in Washington.