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Net neutrality crusaders slam Verizon, Google

Supporters of Net neutrality legislation and regulation lambasted Verizon and Google for leaving wireless networks out of a proposal for new Net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality supporters say they're unhappy that the Verizon Communications and Google proposal for new Net neutrality rules does not go far enough.

On Monday the companies announced a joint proposal that outlines a legislative framework for consideration by lawmakers. The companies have been working together on the Net neutrality issue for almost a year. In October, they issued a shared statement of principles on Net neutrality. And then, a few months later, they submitted a joint filing to the FCC. In late March, the CEOs discussed their interest in an open Internet through an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

There was almost no positive response from Net neutrality supporters on the proposal. But the biggest disappointment for Net neutrality supporters appears to be the fact that Google and Verizon agreed that new regulation or Net neutrality laws should not apply equally to wireless networks.

"They are promising Net Neutrality only for a certain part of the Internet, one that they'll likely stop investing in," the Coalition, a group that consists of several advocacy groups including MoveOn.Org Civic Action, Credo Action, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee,, and Free Press said in its statement.

Joel Kelsey, a political adviser for Free Press, said the proposal would lead to "outright blocking of applications and content on increasingly popular wireless platforms."

Net neutrality supporters in Congress are also concerned about wireless being left out of the proposal.

"Today's proposal leaves out essential elements that should be a part of FCC action to ensure a free and open Internet," Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "The proposal does not apply its prohibition against blocking or slowing Internet traffic to wireless broadband services, for example, and it doesn't mention the need to ensure consumers' privacy online, a glaring omission as examples abound of companies tracking and targeting users' every click. "

While broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications have always opposed regulation or new laws that would dictate how they could run their networks, they have softened their stance over the past several months, and now they accept they will have to live with some rules.

That said, the nation's two biggest wireless phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, say applying the same Net neutrality rules designed for wireline networks to wireless networks is not a good idea. These companies say that wireless networks differ from wireline broadband networks because bandwidth is more limited on a wireless network. Imposing new rules on how carriers operate their wireless networks would stifle investment, they argue.

Indeed, wireless networks do have capacity constraints. But consumer advocates' skepticism about the intentions of Google and Verizon may be well-founded. Google's and Verizon's interests are much more closely aligned in wireless than they are in the traditional broadband market. Google's Android operating system is on dozens of smartphones filled with specialized Google apps that are sold by wireless operators, such as Verizon Wireless.

In fact, Google and Verizon Wireless, which is majority-owned by Verizon Communications, have worked closely together to bring new phones, such as the Motorola Droid and Motorola Droid X, to market using the Google Android platform. Verizon has been banking on the Google devices to lead its smartphone assault on AT&T and Apple's iPhone.

But before anyone gets too worked up about this proposal, supporters and detractors need to remember this is simply a proposal. Google and Verizon do not write law nor do they impose regulations. Congressional leaders write laws. And the FCC writes regulations. Google and Verizon say they are merely making sure they are being heard in the debate. At the end of the day, policy makers will be hearing from all sides, as they have for more than three years.

So far the Federal Communications Commission, which has been drafting new Net neutrality regulation, has kept mum on the proposal Google and Verizon. The agency declined to comment on Monday. But FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has said previously he realizes the constraints on wireless networks. But he believes that Net neutrality principles should apply to wireless networks as well as traditional wired broadband networks.

Meanwhile, AT&T, which says it was not a party to the drafting of this proposal, said it will examine the document closely.

"We remain committed to achieving a consensus solution to the Net neutrality issue, either with the FCC or with the Congress," Claudia Jones, AT&T vice president of public affairs and media relations, said in a statement. "In that sense, the Verizon-Google agreement demonstrates that it is possible to bridge differences on this issue."