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Would a Google-Verizon Deal Kill Net Neutrality?

A report this morning says Google may be close to a deal with Verizon that would give the search giant preferred access on the service provider’s networks. That news has open-Internet advocates worried and Web-watchers scratching their heads.

The New York Times reported:

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

Google pushed back immediately: “@NYTimes is wrong,” Google’s public policy arm posted on Twitter. “We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”

But Edward Lazarus, FCC Chief of Staff, signaled problems in a recent round of talks:

“We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions,” he said in a statement. “It has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet — one that drives innovation, investment, free speech, and consumer choice. All options remain on the table as we continue to seek broad input on this vital issue.”

The company has long been a backer of net neutrality, a principle that says all content should have equal access to public networks. The Federal Communications Commission is looking at whether to regulate broadband infrastructure like a utility, something Internet service providers have resisted.

The Wall Street Journal, confirming the Times’ story, says the deal aims in part at influencing broadband legislation:

Details are scarce. People briefed on the tentative agreement, however, said it could provide a framework for legislation that would codify some of the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality principles. It would, however, allow phone and cable companies to offer faster, priority delivery of Internet traffic for companies that pay extra for the service, these people said.

The agreement would not apply net-neutrality principles to wireless networks, these people said. Discussions currently taking place at the FCC have centered partly on whether wireless networks should be subject to net neutrality.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told reporters today: “Any outcome, any deal that doesn’t preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet for consumers and entrepreneurs will be unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, we wait for details. Both the Times and Journal say the deal, if there is one, could be announced Friday.

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For more on net neutrality, see this piece from April:

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