Are Google, Verizon About To Crush Net Neutrality Or Not?

Various reports circulating Wednesday and Thursday claim Google and Verizon have been in talks for about 10 months on a deal that would let Verizon offer consumers faster access to some Internet content if they're willing to pay for it -- which, if true, would upend the core tenets of net neutrality and how the FCC is pushing to manage it.

Such an agreement, which has been reported on as imminent by The New York Times, would stymie efforts by the FCC to ensure net neutrality -- in which theoretically access to one form of Internet content isn't favored over another -- and set up a system of paying for privileged Internet access similar to the way cable television operators offer more content and services to customers for more money.

According to the Times Google and Verizon's deal could be struck next week, while other reports suggested it could come as early as Friday. Another report in The Wall Street Journal had Verizon confirming that it has been in discussions with Google and the FCC for nearly a year.

But Google itself has called a supposed deal "simply wrong." In a statement made to numerous publications, Mistique Cano, manager of global communications and public affairs at Google, says Google has "not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic."

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Google also posted a similar response to its @googlepubpolicy Twitter feed, stating, "We've not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet."

The FCC itself saw its net neutrality wings clipped in April, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC has no jurisdiction over Internet service providers. The FCC in June reportedly began closed-door meetings with a number of broadband providers and industry stakeholders to examine whether formal net neutrality rules are still viable and how to hammer out appropriate policy.

Consumer watchdog groups and other observers moved quickly to criticize the rumored Google-Verizon deal. A joint statement from a number of groups released Wednesday called a Google-Verizon deal "unseemly and inappropriate," and was signed by Public Knowledge, Free Press, the Media Access Project, the Center for Media Justice, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative and the Media and Democracy Coalition.

"This agreement cannot be enforced by any governmental agency and will provide no protection against the types of abuse we've have seen from large Internet Service Providers. The Internet belongs to all of us, not to Verizon and Google," the statement reads.

While such a deal would affect only Google and Verizon, according to the groups, the fear is that it would be seen as a template for future legislative efforts.

"It would be inappropriate for Congress and the FCC policy makers to use this agreement as the basis for public policy," the statement reads.

Worth noting: Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated previous opposition to the type of deal Google and Verizon are said to be discussing. As The Guardian pointed out Wednesday, Schmidt at this past February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona said that Google itself wouldn't pay for privileged Internet access.

"Google defines net neutrality in the following way: if you have a content category like video we want to make sure that the operator does not favor one video [provider] over another because that would then allow the operator to pick winners in the category. Imagine a situation where the operator also owned a TV network and discriminated in favor of that TV programming against the other choices, that would not be seen as fair," Schmidt reportedly said.