Internet Policy Experts React to Google/Verizon Regulation Proposal

BY Lea Winerman  August 9, 2010 at 5:25 PM EDT

Google and Verizon released a joint set of principles for Internet regulation Monday that would enshrine some aspects of net neutrality principles in law, but would largely exempt the wireless Internet from regulation. We asked advocates and opponents of government Internet regulation to react to the proposal. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Scott Cleland

Chairman of NetCompetition.org, an online trade group financed by broadband Internet providers.

First of all, this is two companies’ legislative proposal. There are many, many, other important stakeholders out there as well. But this does show that progress can be made in stakeholder negotiations. That means that there’s no urgency or need for the FCC to move quickly to regulate the broadband Internet as a monopoly telephone service. [...] The importance of this is that it shows there’s an opportunity to settle this through negotiation and not by FCC fiat.

>Josh Silver

President and CEO of Free Press, a non-profit that advocates for media reform and net neutrality.

I think first it’s really important to take a step back and understand the events that happened before [today's announcement]. There was a very surprising decision that came out from a federal court in April that the Federal Communications Commission does not have authority over Internet providers. [...] So we’ve got a lack of regulatory authority, and a Congress that has essentially been willing to do what telecommunications companies want.

In the midst of this you have this announcement by Google and Verizon, and it takes on a heavier weight, because with a lack of regulatory oversight the decisions of the largest carriers became the de facto law of land.

[The framework] is terrible, it allows for near-complete deregulation of the wireless Internet [...] and on the wired side, it allows these huge loopholes called managed services — basically fast lanes and slow lanes decided on by Google and Verizon, not by you.

[The argument that the "public Internet" will remain open] is completely bogus and it’s completely untrue — especially because this deal is happening between Google and a phone company, and not a cable company. Cable is much, much faster. And as a result, there’s not room in Verizon’s pipes … it’s kind of like saying ‘we’re going to have an extra big highway,’ but they don’t have room for that highway. It’s smoke and mirrors, and they’re hoping that people won’t notice.

This is a huge problem for Google’s brand. Google has enjoyed since its birth this most-often-deserved reputation as a fair and honest player — that they’re “not evil,” so to speak. But this really puts them in the lot with other corporations that will do anything to profit.

Adam Thierer

President and Director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a think tank that advocates for a free-market approach to telecommunications policy.

Personally, as someone who is not particularly fond of regulation of the Internet, I’m a little bit concerned that Verizon has given a little too much away to make proponents of regulation happy. Obviously they want to find a way to make a beneficial deal with Google to foreclose the possibility of really onerous forms of regulation later. But I see this as really opening the door to those forms of regulation.

One thing that’s particularly interesting about this compromise is that, from the Google perspective, what some people regard as a compromise is that they want all the net neutrality rules applied to wireline but not wireless Internet. That’s probably OK with people like Verizon who can handle that on the wireline side — but the problem is that not every company is Verizon. So it will be interesting to see what small telecommunications operators will say about that [...] And to see what the cable companies say — are they going to feel they were thrown under the bus?

The reality is that prioritized services and price discrimination are utilized in every other major American industrial sector. Prioritization of service is a core component of capitalism. Whether it’s airlines, with first class versus coach, or gasoline with different grades — you name it. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t mean that [these companies] are rejecting customers simply because they can’t afford priority service. I can’t afford first class, but there’s a benefit to me in coach [of costs being spread among the coach and first class passengers].

Sherwin Siy

Deputy Legal Director of Public Knowledge, a a digital rights advocacy group that favors net neutrality regulations.

This is not something as binding as a business contract — it’s a proposal for federal policymaking. The problem with it is really is how enforceable it is and how many loopholes are in it — and those are some extremely big problems.

It completely excludes wireless Internet, which is a huge problem because wireless Internet is going to do nothing but grow. And it’s not just people using fancy phones, it’s also how Internet access may get to rural communities — it’s quite possibly going to be a big way in which a lot of people will get Internet in the coming years.

So the exclusion of wireless wholesale is odd because the FCC’s policy statement on the open Internet is not confined to wireline. And really the Internet is the Internet is the Internent. You don’t get a different Internet because you’re on a mobile device. So I don’t see why the same nondiscrimination rules shouldn’t apply.

Then there’s the question of managed services. They label it “additional online services.” The concern there is that justification we’ve seen given for discrimination is limited bandwidth. If that limited bandwidth is now being devoted to whatever new managed services they’re talking about, how much is left over to give access to the open Internet.

Also, the questions of how the FCC would enforce [these policies] are totally up in the air. They insist they’d like the FCC to be able to enforce this, but … they suggest for example the FCC would publish annual report on the effect of the managed services. Well that’s great, but what are the penalties if companies overstep these bounds? They suggest up to a $2 million fine for overstepping. That’s a big round number, but [...] to suggest that $2 million will be enough of a deterrent is a little disingenuous.