Google, Verizon share Net neutrality proposal

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Last week the Internet was ablaze with speculation that a potential deal between Google and Verizon could undermine the future of the open Web by letting content owners pay for faster delivery speeds. Both companies were quick to deny such claims. Today, they've actually come forward with a 'suggested legislative framework' that could be considered by members of Congress or related government agencies to make net neutrality enforceable.

The plan includes several principles, the first of which would ensure that consumers have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose. They also call for enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices, such as prioritizing or blocking Internet traffic, and require broadband providers to be transparent about the services and speeds they offer. Naturally, ISPs would be permitted to engage in "reasonable network management" to ensure quality service, but they must do so in accordance with "best practices adopted by an independent, widely-recognized Internet community governance initiative or standard-setting organization."

In other words, Google and Verizon actually seem in favor of some oversight as long as it's beneficial to consumers. In a significant exception, however, the principles wouldn't apply to Internet services provided over cell phone networks. The companies argue that this still-nascent market is different from the world of wired broadband, in part because the mobile space is more competitive, it's changing rapidly and apparently because there's simply not enough capacity for unrestricted access. As a result, the companies believe only the transparency principle should apply for now.

The companies also proposed another possible exemption for other online services that broadband providers might create in the future. These new services could include things like educational services or new entertainment options and would have to be "distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services." Exactly what this entails is not clear at the moment, but some worry the ambiguity of such principle could be used as a loophole to bypass net neutrality rules.

Google and Verizon made it clear that this is not a business deal, but merely a policy proposal that both companies intend to follow and want the FCC to review. If passed into law, the government agency would have the authority to fine infractors up to $2 million for breaking any of these rules -- which wasn't the case against Comcast.

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