Google Conditionally Backs Net Neutrality

Dennis Faas's picture

Google and Verizon have made a joint proposal for how "net neutrality" should operate. It's a proposal that is as controversial as net neutrality itself.

The Principle of Net Neutrality

The principle of net neutrality is that all Internet traffic should be treated in the same way, with the exception of illegal content. Whether that principle should be upheld is the subject of heated debate. Supporters say the Internet should be treated like a utility (such as telephones, where providers must offer a connection to every home), while opponents favor a purely commercial approach with providers allowed to offer access however they see fit.

Regulators Aim to Uphold Principle

Historically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has operated on the basis that net neutrality is government policy. However, a case in which Comcast deliberately slowed down traffic sent through the BitTorrent filesharing system put that approach into jeopardy when a court ruled the FCC did not have the legal power to enforce net neutrality.

The FCC has been looking at ways to rectify this, ranging from reclassifying the regulatory status of broadband to asking Congress to pass new laws specifically granting it the powers it says it needs. As part of this process it has consulted Internet providers, website operators and other interested parties.

Companies in Private Talks

Reports last week claimed Google and Verizon had held private talks aimed at presenting their own ideas for legislation, and that the two sides had reached a deal by which Google could pay a fee to have its content get priority on Verizon networks. This means that, for example, YouTube might load faster than rival video sites.

The two firms denied such a deal existed and have now issued a statement backing the idea of a law enforcing net neutrality, with firms not allowed to discriminate between traffic.

However, the Google and Verizon suggestions come with catches. The companies believe wireless Internet should not be subject to net neutrality rules, arguing that the market is more competitive than that for wired broadband and thus in less need of regulation. (Source:

They also suggest Internet companies be allowed to develop "additional, differentiated online services" that wouldn't be covered by the rules. Though Google and Verizon call for "safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules," opponents believe this could act as a loophole. (Source:

It's worth remembering that these proposals are merely ideas from two companies and don't carry any legal weight. However, given the stature of the two firms, it may be a good indication of how much -- and how little -- the major Internet players are prepared to give up if it comes down to a negotiation with lawmakers.

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