As we noted yesterday
, somebody either at the FCC or at the carriers has leaked the news that Google and Verizon have quietly hatched a network neutrality agreement they then presented to the FCC on a platter. This of course comes on the heels of news that the FCC has had repeated backdoor meetings with carriers, and is getting very close to unveiling a neutrality deal (we assume based on the Google/Verizon agreement) that's largely filled with loopholes
. In responding to yesterday's leaks, Verizon e-mailed a statement to press outlets insisting they're still committed to the FCC process:
"We've been working with Google for 10 months to reach an agreement on broadband policy. We are currently engaged in and committed to the negotiation process led by the FCC. We are optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet and the investment and innovation required to sustain it."
Except Verizon's supposed "commitment" to the FCC process involves negotiating back room deals that they hope will be used as the foundation of neutrality rules with little to no public input. This commitment to the FCC process also apparently involves their CEO putting political pressure on White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to hurry up and get a deal done, even if it's largely an empty one. Over at their blog
, Verizon gets even more vocal about how they're really dedicated to this whole openness thing:
The NYT article regarding conversations between Google and Verizon is mistaken. It fundamentally misunderstands our purpose. As we said in our earlier FCC filing, our goal is an Internet policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation. To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect.
In fact Verizon was so interested in "openness and accountability," they spent much of this year busily hashing out network neutrality policies with Google nobody knew existed, with no input from the public.
Some things to keep in mind. Most of these news reports on the Google/Verizon negotiations seem simply wrong (like this one in the NY Times
). For starters, it seems incredibly unlikely Google would agree to paid prioritization of any kind. The goal of whatever deal Google and Verizon have struck is to solely to pre-empt tougher FCC rules with weak voluntary guidelines. It's also important to note that Google's involvement in this process absolutely does not mean the policies cooked up by the two companies will be good for consumers.
You might recall that back in March
Verizon and Google penned a joint editorial in the Wall Street Journal arguing that both companies were opposed to government regulation (at least when it doesn't protect monopolies or bathe them in taxpayer money) on the neutrality front. As such, they've cooked up this voluntary screed as their solution, and every indication is that a timid FCC is prepared to use it as the cornerstone of their new neutrality rules.
Verizon of course is eager to get similar voluntary guidelines applied to privacy, given Verizon likes to argue that public shame will keep them honest
. Of course self-regulatory efforts like this rarely work out well for consumers, given they lack any real penalties or teeth. They especially
don't work well in markets with limited competition, given most consumers lack the choice of options allowing them to vote with their wallet.
With an FCC that's unwilling to pass tough rules or
tackle broadband competition, the end result may not be pretty. It's not quite as dire as some news outlets are insisting (specifically that Google would suddenly agree to sell consumers up the river and pay Verizon for faster access to their customers), but the deal is troublesome. Most notably, it continues the tradition of a sector's wealthiest companies crafting meaningless rules in private in order to derail tougher consumer protections.