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Net neutrality deal may not see wider support

A reported agreement between Verizon and Google may not affect the FCC or legislation

By , IDG News Service
August 05, 2010 11:21 AM ET

IDG News Service - A potential deal between Google and Verizon Communications on network neutrality may not carry much weight with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which has been trying to broker its own deal in recent weeks.

News reports from late Wednesday suggested Google and Verizon were close to their own deal on network management, but details were sketchy. A deal between the two companies could possibly serve as a model for net neutrality legislation in Congress or a compromise at the FCC, but there's no guarantee that the FCC, other providers or lawmakers would back a Google/Verizon deal.

Indeed, AT&T, with a larger broadband customer base than Verizon, said Thursday it continues to work with the FCC on a compromise. "AT&T is not a party to the purported agreement between Google and Verizon," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, said in a statement. "We remain committed to trying to reach a consensus on this issue through the FCC process."

Proposed net neutrality rules would prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.

Verizon, in a statement, said it was committed to the FCC's negotiations. "We are optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet and the investment and innovation required to sustain it," the company said.

Seven consumer and digital rights groups, including Public Knowledge, Free Press and the Consumer Federation of America, voiced opposition to a private deal between Google and Verizon.

"It is unseemly and inappropriate for two giant companies to decide the future of the Internet and how Internet will work for millions of users," said the groups, which all back stronger net neutrality rules through the FCC or Congress. "This agreement cannot be enforced by any governmental agency and will provide no protection against the types of abuse we seen from large Internet Service Providers. The Internet belongs to all of us, not to Verizon and Google."

The FCC did not comment directly on the reports of a Google and Verizon deal. "The broad stakeholder discussions continue to actively include Google and Verizon," FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard said.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on talks between her company and Verizon, but she denied a New York Times report that said the two companies were negotiating a tiered service agreement that would give Google services faster network speeds than some competitors.

That story "is quite simply wrong," said Mistique Cano, manager of global communications and public affairs at Google. "We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet."

Supporters of stronger net neutrality rules were split on the potential impact of a private deal between Verizon and Google.

A compromise brokered by the FCC might supersede any deal between the two companies, but Verizon and Google's work might serve as a model for government action, said Art Brodsky, spokesman for Public Knowledge. "The danger is that the private deal becomes the template for legislation," he said.

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