Google Backs Down on Net Neutrality

Capitol Confidential

On Monday, Google and Verizon—two of the nation’s biggest companies operating in the tech space—announced a compromise joint proposal on Internet regulation that has tech policy observers buzzing.

The proposal, discussed during a conference call featuring Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, represents a substantial softening of Google’s position on controversial net neutrality proposals, say several tech policy observers.

Notably, while enshrining non-discrimination rules with regard to what is often referred to as “traditional Internet broadband service,” the proposal also allows broadband providers to offer what are known as “differentiated services,” such as Verizon’s FiOS service, which need not be neutral. This is being interpreted in some quarters as a major shift on Google’s part.

The company took fire yesterday from Free Press, a pro-net neutrality group that some tech policy experts have speculated for years took money from Google to finance its advocacy efforts, which helped promote an approach that observers say could, if adopted and enforced, have benefited the corporation substantially.  In a statement, Free Press adviser Joel Kelsey remarked that “If codified, this arrangement will lead to toll booths on the information superhighway.”

But Google and Verizon assert that in fact, their proposal would facilitate further innovation, while supporters of the deal say it would not harm consumers’ ability to access information.

The deal does not preserve a regulation-free environment, and observers differ on the extent to which it can be said to enshrine a “light touch” regulatory approach.  “It indicates significant movement on Google’s part, which is positive” said one regulation-skeptical expert with whom Capitol Confidential spoke.  “However, it is not as regulation-light as a lot of the ISPs [internet service providers] would like.  It does still regulate where providers aren’t convinced that’s necessary or appropriate.”

Nonetheless, in the wake of Amazon— another historically high-profile supporter of net neutrality— having last month announced its support for a compromise position on Internet regulation, net neutrality opponents may take heart from this latest move on Google’s part, which may indicate a weakening of the coalition favoring aggressive regulation.

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