Google, Verizon Unveil Open Internet Plan

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg have unveiled a joint policy proposal for an open Internet that detailed their thinking on the much-discussed topic. But some critics blasted their vision of a two-pronged Internet.

Google and Verizon have been working on a policy framework, but last week drew fire as critics expressed concern it would undermine Internet neutrality, a principle focused on avoiding restrictions or preferred treatment of certain types of content by Internet service providers.

Last week, the two companies on Monday denied a New York Times report that they were looking to create pay tiers for Web sites or move popular content sites into restricted territory. But they still were met by criticism and concerns.

Their framework indeed calls for wireline broadband providers to not discriminate against lawful content, even if it eats up a lot of bandwidth, and would give regulators the right to step in to stop offenders.

But the framework would also allow Verizon and other Internet service providers to launch new, “differentiated” Web services where they could give priority to certain traffic.

Writers Guild of America East president Michael Winship and executive director Lowell Peterson said the companies were using a “semantic sleight of hand [that] seeks to prioritize online content, granting privilege and advantage to those content creators with deeper pockets who would like nothing better than to destroy the concept of Net neutrality.”

The sleight of hand referenced was Google’s and Verizon’s use of a distinction between the current “public Internet” and new, differentiated online services.

Critics also expressed concern that the fast-developing wireless Internet space wasn’t fully covered by the rules, even though the Google and Verizon proposal eyes the same basic nondiscrimination rules here as in the wired world.

A post on Google’s public policy blog said that the two companies agreed in their proposal that wireline broadband providers wouldn’t discriminate against or prioritize lawful content or services in ways that would cause harm to users or competition. “This new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic — including paid prioritization,” it said.

Schmidt on a conference call told reporters that the Internet and telecom giants want to ensure an open Internet that would allow for the next Google to get created or “the next YouTube, the next social network.” He said “preserving the open Internet is very important to Google.”

Schmidt later re-emphasized that Google is committed to the current “public Internet” and likes the way it works. He also emphasized that YouTube would remain part of this public Internet, that there will be no Verizon YouTube channel and that there would be no prioritization on traffic coming from Google.

There will be “no paid prioritization,” Seidenberg echoed and confirmed in his comments on the call. He later also re-emphasized that as long as a site or service is lawful and doesn’t threaten the network — like a virus, for example — Verizon would not degrade access to the site or service, even if it eats up a lot of bandwidth.

But he also said that under their policy proposal Verizon and other broadband providers could launch new entertainment, gaming, healthcare monitoring or other “differentiated services” outside the current “public Internet.” Such services could allow the ISPs to also create new revenue streams.

Asked to give an example for such a potential new entertainment service, Seidenberg suggested that the Metropolitan Opera might want to offer 3-D content via a specialized, separate network to ensure better quality.

Schmidt said the FCC is expected to review the proposal outlined by Google and Verizon. The executives didn’t say which other companies they have reached out to about the proposal.

Congressman Jay Inslee (D. – Wash.) called on the FCC to protect consumers online. “The American people deserve nothing less than a free and open Internet where ideas and innovation are allowed to flourish, and today’s proposal has made it even clearer that we cannot rely on industry alone to do just that,” he said.