Why the Google-Verizon Pact Is Bad for Consumers

Net neutrality advocates rip apart the new proposal

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On Monday, Google backed away from its long-held push for pure "net neutrality" in a joint press release coauthored by Verizon. The two companies proposed a new framework detailing how Internet providers should treat their customers. In some cases (e.g. wireless Internet networks), Verizon and Google want to allow Internet providers to favor some websites and applications over others. The companies' CEOs promoted their new plan in the Washington Post today. However, a number of technology and media observers think it's a terrible idea. Here's why:

  • Dispute Resolution  The Google-Verizon press release proposes that Internet providers should not be able to discriminate against different websites or applications (like having Fox New load faster than Daily Kos). But what if Comcast or another Internet company breaks the rules? According to the release, "Parties would be encouraged to use nongovernmental dispute resolution processes established by independent, widely-recognized Internet community governance initiatives and the FCC would be directed to give appropriate deference to decisions or advisory opinions of such groups." To Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica, this setup would give unprecedented power to the largest telecom and Internet companies. "In other words," Lasar writes. "Some kind of organization dominated by Google and Verizon would decide what constitutes 'meaningful harm.' ...Since the proposal forbids the FCC from making any rules, we fear that the complaint will go to Verizon and Google and the rest of the winners circle, who will decide what these exemptible services will be, then give the Commission its marching orders."
  • Wireless Networks  The Google-Verizon press release stipulates that wireless Internet carriers shouldn't be burdened with the kind of net neutrality rules that may be imposed on wireline providers. In a joint press release, a number of progressive groups including MoveOn.org and Credo Action protested, saying "They are promising Net Neutrality only for a certain part of the Internet, one that they’ll likely stop investing in. But they are also paving the way for a new 'Internet' via fiber and wireless phones where Net Neutrality will not apply and corporations can pick and choose which sites people can easily view on their phones or any other Internet device using these networks. It would open the door to outright blocking of applications... It would divide the information superhighway, creating new private fast lanes for the big players while leaving the little guy stranded on a winding dirt road."
  • The Powerful Are Writing the Rules, observes Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic: "What I'm left wondering is whether this kind of proposal -- which exudes the sickly sweet smell of political horsetrading -- is what's needed to break the net neutrality stalemate." Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine agrees: "The internet is ours, not yours, Verizon and Google. This is why we need our Bill of Rights in Cyberspace... it is up to us to create our own principles so we can point corporations and government at them. Otherwise, they will take over our land without us at the table."
  • Creates a First-Class and Second-Class Internet, writes Om Malik at Gigaom: "The temptation to accept this compromise as good for everyone may force a version of network neutrality that leaves mobile, one of the fastest areas of innovation on the web, out of the new rules. It also enables an alternative version of the public Internet that could lead to the creation of a first-class and a second-class system of packet delivery."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.