Verizon and Google Announce Their Net Neutrality Solution – A gutted FCC overseeing weak rules that don’t apply to wireless

It’s way past time for the FCC to take charge of this mess … isn’t that what we pay them to do?

Last week was a messy (though entertaining) one on the network neutrality front, with the FCC canceling their largely closed-door meetings with carriers after criticism and reports that Google and Verizon were conducting private neutrality negotiations. While there was a lot of random interpretation of what the Verizon/Google talks mean, we noted on Friday that the goal of the talks were to to pre-empt tougher consumer protections with voluntary measures that likely wouldn’t do much of anything (Verizon’s usual tactic in DC).

Google and Verizon spent last week engaged in damage control, Verizon insisting that their closed-door meetings with Google were about “openness,” then insisting no real arrangement had been made. Google in turn denied they’d struck any paid prioritization deal and reiterated a vague commitment to an open Internet, but didn’t really deny that a private deal was struck.

Today the two companies held a joint press conference to announce that yes, they had come to an arrangement. Both Google and Verizon CEOs and top lobbyists attended the call, and after calling all of last week’s press coverage “erroneous,” the companies directed call attendee attention to this framework, which the companies hope can be used as either the cornerstone of voluntary principles, or the basis of new law. The framework pledges to protect consumers’ rights to:

(1) send and receive lawful content of their choice;
(2) run lawful applications and use lawful services of their choice; and
(3) connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network or service, facilitate theft of service, or harm other users of the service.

The restrictions so far seem just as nebulous as the vague FCC principles that brought us to this point. Obviously, the term “lawful” is a nod to leaving the door open for ISPs to engage in anti-piracy protections. Google meanwhile continues to insist they will not pay for prioritization of services (like YouTube) over the Verizon network. Sort of. As Google notes at their policy blog, a massive, vague door is being left open to profitable specialized relationships that extend beyond general Internet traffic (smart grid and health care services are used as examples).

Nothing said today changes the fact that this policy framework is very much focused on creating a weak, self-regulatory policy system filled with loopholes instead of real neutrality consumer protections. While the framework notes that Verizon and Google’s plan would give the FCC the power to fine companies up to $2 million for offenses, it then goes to great length to argue that the FCC should have no substantive power of any kind over broadband ISPs, with offenses instead overseen by what will ultimately be the industry itself:

The FCC would enforce the consumer protection and nondiscrimination requirements through case-by-case adjudication, but would have no rule making authority with respect to those provisions. Parties would be encouraged to use non- governmental dispute resolution processes established by independent, widely recognized Internet community governance initiatives, and the FCC would be directed to give appropriate deference to decisions or advisory opinions of such groups.

Parties would be encouraged to use non- governmental dispute resolution processes established by independent, widely recognized Internet community governance initiatives, and the FCC would be directed to give appropriate deference to decisions or advisory opinions of such groups.
-Verizon and Google’s neutrality framework

In other words, the FCC would act as a show pony, whose authority in issues of enforcement would be superseded by groups created and run by the telecom industry. If you’re new to telecom, “independent, widely recognized Internet community governance initiatives” is code for faux-regulatory agencies created by AT&T, Verizon and their massive lobbyist coalitions of hijacked political groups, paid policy mouthpieces and fake consumer advocates.

Meanwhile, both CEOs seemed combative with the press, several times all-but-stating that last week’s reports were largely fabricated — despite the fact that the majority of the information leaked appears to be true. Both companies also for some reason felt it necessary to repeatedly insist that this was not a “business arrangement,” despite the fact this is very clearly a business arrangement aimed at protecting the — wait for it — Google Android Verizon business arrangement.

How? Because as the “erroneous” press correctly noted last week, none of these proposed rules would apply to wireless services due to “unique technical and operational characteristics.” This comes as Verizon prepares to launch faster LTE wireless broadband services that will finally begin to put wireless in the role of competing with terrestrial broadband (Verizon’s goal in rural markets). Stop here and think carefully about who might have leaked the details of this upcoming arrangement, why, and why exactly Verizon is so very upset about how the media interpreted that information.

The devil will be in the details (something Verizon lawyers excel at), so this framework could get even worse — assuming it’s even used. Still, there’s a certain arrogance here that’s notable as news. The idea that Google and Verizon think nobody will notice they’ve proposed a network neutrality solution that excludes wireless while nuzzling their multi-billion-dollar Android partnership seems almost obnoxiously cocky. Arrogance is par for the course for Verizon, but assuming your audience is comprised of complete morons seems like new territory for Google.

It seems like common sense that telecom regulators, not the sector’s wealthiest players, should be dictating the beat of this particular policy drum. The fact that this isn’t the case speaks to the FCC’s murky leadership over the past year. The framework used to create any Internet policy rules shouldn’t be a game of policy make believe focused on protecting the revenues of the wealthiest constituents — it should be the brain trust of a broad collective, including consumers, smaller carriers, and truly independent experts.
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Western Telematic, Inc. (WTI) designs and manufactures Serial Console Server products and Rack Mount PDU products to simplify remote management of rack mount network equipment.

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