Is Google Working With Verizon to Upend Net Neutrality?

It sounds unlikely, but sources close to Google and Verizon have said that the two companies are working together on a deal that would help Verizon charge some Internet content providers more than others in exchange for priority data transfer speeds.

Such an agreement would fly in the face of net neutrality, a philosophy of web content previously promoted by Google.

The news comes from The New York Times, which cites “people close to the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly.” The two tech giants will reportedly make the deal “as soon as next week.”

Consumer advocacy groups and many content creators have argued in favor of net neutrality, which would ensure that the consumer’s ability to access certain pieces of web content would not be tiered based on expense like premium channels on cable television, or first-class and coach seating on airlines.

Some of those advocacy groups (Public Knowledge, Free Press, Media and Democracy Coalition and New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative) e-mailed Mashable with a joint statement, outraged by the alleged deal. They called it “unseemly and inappropriate” and said “the Internet belongs to all of us, not to Verizon and Google. There is widespread public support for an open Internet.”

Details on what the deal would entail are scarce, but The New York Times gave one sensational example: Google-owned YouTube may, in theory, pay Verizon additional fees to ensure that its videos are given priority when passing over the various connections of the Internet to reach consumers.

It’s unclear whether this deal would apply to Verizon’s mobile data network, to its FiOS broadband service, or both. The future of net neutrality and its alternatives has not yet been decided, but if this is a broadly encompassing deal, it could influence public policy.

Wasn’t Google For Net Neutrality?

If this news is true and all is as The New York Times makes it seem, it’s shocking, as Google has publicly advocated net neutrality. The company has officially been at the forefront of the cause to promote and preserve openness on the web, so we find it difficult to take this report at face value.

That said, there are a few reasons that Google could appear to change course. It may see the FCC’s lost court case with Comcast this April as a sign that the dismantling of the old way of doing things is inevitable, and as the adage goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

It’s also possible (but unlikely) that Google has in this case prioritized some prospect for its Android smartphones — a market in which Verizon has considerable leverage — over the positions that would benefit its traditional search business.

Even more unlikely, maybe Google was never really completely behind net neutrality to begin with; maybe it was a populist PR position. AT&T has accused Google of walking a fine line over broader issues of openness in the past. Or maybe The New York Times’ description of the situation is erroneous or incomplete.

What do you make of this report? Do you believe Google is really considering turning its back on net neutrality, even in some small or specific way? Let us know in the comments.

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Gabriel Catalano

agosto 2010
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