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Google defends Net neutrality proposal

The company has taken a lot of heat for its joint proposal with Verizon Communications for drafting Net neutrality rules. And now the Internet giant says it wants to set the record straight.

Google defended its Net neutrality proposal that it co-authored with Verizon Communications in a post on its public-policy blog Thursday.

Since Monday, when Google and Verizon took the wraps off what the two companies are calling a "legislative framework" for public-policy makers on Net neutrality, it has received a tongue lashing from critics. Net neutrality supporters have called the company a "sellout." They've questioned Google's intentions for teaming up with Verizon. And they've said the proposal, if accepted, would mark a backward step for Internet progression.

Joel Kelsey, political adviser for Free Press, said this proposal would "lead to tollbooths on the information superhighway."

"Google and Verizon can try all they want to disguise this deal as a reasonable path forward, but the simple fact is, this framework, if embraced by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission, would transform the free and open Internet into a closed platform like cable television," he said in a statement issued Monday. "This is much worse than a business arrangement between two companies. It's a signed, sealed, and delivered policy framework with giant loopholes that blesses the carving up of the Internet for a few deep-pocketed Internet companies and carriers."

In a blog post on Thursday, Richard Whitt, Google's telecommunications and media counsel in Washington, D.C., tried to set the record straight on the Google-Verizon proposal.

"On balance, we believe this proposal represents real progress on what has become a very contentious issue, and we think it could help move the network neutrality debate forward constructively," he said. "We don't expect everyone to agree with every aspect of our proposal, but there has been a number of inaccuracies about it, and we do want to separate fact from fiction."

The first criticism that Whitt tackles is that Google has sold out. Whitt defends Google's track record with respect to Net neutrality and its commitment to an open Internet.

"We're not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could--or should--decide the future of this issue...We're simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years."
--Richard Whitt, telecommunications and media counsel, Google

Basically, Whitt said Google has come to the cold, hard reality that after five years of battling in D.C., there are still no real protections to guard the Internet from "carrier discrimination against Internet traffic." That's why the company would team up with Verizon, he said.

He pointed out that the proposal and Google's decision to work with Verizon has nothing to do with the fact that it also has close ties with Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group, with respect to Google's Android mobile operating system.

"This is a policy proposal--not a business deal," he said. "Of course, Google has a close business relationship with Verizon, but ultimately, this proposal has nothing to do with Android."

He also further explained that this is simply a proposal, not legislation. He said it's up to Congress, the FCC, and other policy makers to take these ideas and figure out what fits into the ultimate policy or legislation.

"We're not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could--or should--decide the future of this issue," he wrote in the blog post. "We're simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years."

He also denied that the proposal would mark a setback for the open Internet. In fact, he argued taht the opposite is true. If adopted, he said, the proposal would actually give the FCC new enforceable standards. It would prohibit the blocking or degrading of wireline Internet traffic or monkeying with Net traffic in a way that would hurt consumers or competition.

Most importantly, Whitt argued that Google is not trying to eliminate Net neutrality for wireless networks.

"It's true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services," he wrote. "However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye."

He defended this position by stating that the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, which some would argue is debatable, given that the FCC issued a report earlier this year stating that the wireless industry is too concentrated.

He also argued that the nature of wireless networks makes them more constrained than traditional wireline networks.

"Because wireless networks employ airwaves, rather than wires, and share constrained capacity among many users, these carriers need to manage their networks more actively," he said.

Whitt also pointed to the fact that device openness is beginning to take off as a significant business model. This argument is somewhat tenuous, given that Google halted sales of its own independently sold smartphone, the Nexus One.

Still, he said the proposal includes provisions that would require the government to monitor and report regularly on the state of the wireless industry to ensure that network operators are not abusing the control they wield over the industry.

And finally, Whitt argued that Google is not trying to "cannibalize" the public Internet. He said critics have slammed the proposal for a provision that would allow broadband providers to offer certain specialized services to customers, such as a specialized game channel, or a more secure banking service, or a home health-monitoring capability.

He emphasized that these services would be offered over a network that is separate from the public Internet. And he pointed out that many operators already offer such services. He also pointed out that the proposal would actually offer more protections to ensure that these services don't impede on the open public Internet.

"So we believe that there would be more than adequate tools in place to help guard against the "cannibalization" of the public Internet," he said in the post.