Proposal Would Let Internet Providers Favor Some Services
Google on Monday reversed its long-held support for pure “net neutrality” and joined Verizon in calling for new laws that would enable Internet providers to favor some Web services over others.
That touched off vehement protests from consumer groups that support network neutrality, the principal of ensuring all people have equal access to all websites.
If the Google-Verizon proposal goes through, it would “kill Internet freedom,” says Justin Ruben, director of the advocacy group MoveOn.org.
Google and Verizon framed their proposal as “a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices.” In a policy statement, the companies asked Congress to bar phone and cable TV companies from slowing down, blocking or charging to prioritize Internet traffic flowing over their regular broadband lines.
But the companies left room for broadband providers to charge extra to route traffic from premium services such as remote medical monitoring and smart-grid controls over dedicated networks that are separate from the public Internet.
Google and Verizon also want Congress to exempt mobile devices — such as Google’s Android phones and Apple’s iPad — from net neutrality. And they are calling for restrictions on the Federal Communications Commission’s role in regulating the Internet.
The agency declined comment. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been an outspoken supporter of net neutrality.
The rising popularity of Web-connected mobile devices, especially Google Android smartphones, probably solidified Google’s change of heart, says Kevin Lee, CEO of search consultants Didit. The company now desires legal standing to pay Verizon a premium to reach users willing to pay for a higher tier of mobile Internet service.
It could arrange, for instance, for Google’s Chrome browser to be used exclusively on such phones and charge advertisers a premium for reaching high-demographic users. “There is value to the eyeballs using those smartphones,” Lee says.
But smaller Internet companies wouldn’t be able to keep pace. “Ultimately, consumers would pay the costs for the premium delivery, or worse, would never see the content of smaller companies,” says John Simpson, director of advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. “Google claims it won’t use premium channels for delivery, but not long ago they professed to defend true net neutrality.”