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Google's Net Neutrality Flip-Flop?

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Google and Verizon are reportedly finalizing an agreement that could bury net neutrality.

Details are scarce, but according to the New York Times, the deal "could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content's creators are willing to pay for the privilege." Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the compromise between the two companies "would restrict Verizon from selectively slowing Internet content that travels over its wires, but wouldn’t apply such limits to Internet use on mobile phones."

Google has denied via Twitter that negotiations between the two companies are in the works, stating, "We've not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet."

Although the deal is unconfirmed, Google's support for a plan that would overthrow net neutrality would run counter to the company's long-standing position on the issue. Google has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the Internet policy that would require service providers to treat all information passing over their networks equally.

For example:

  • In a January 24, 2010 blog post, Google explained its support for the FCC's efforts to "keep the internet open: "We've argued that the FCC should re-adopt rules to prevent network providers from discriminating against certain services, applications, or viewpoints on the Web, and requiring them to be transparent about how they manage their networks."
  • In 2006, Google CEO Eric Schmidt wrote "A Note to Google Users on Net Neutrality," urging users to contact the House of Representatives to ask them to vote down a bill that would "give the big phone and cable companies the power to pick and choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet." "Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody - no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional - has equal access," Schmidt wrote in his blog post. "But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can't pay."
  • In 2005, Vint Cerf, the "Father of the Internet" and Google's "net neutrality guru" advised a House Committee on Energy and Commerce that "a lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive."

A Google/Verizon deal of the kind described by the New York Times would enact precisely the pay tiers that Schmidt fiercely fought in 2006. Jeff Jarvis calls Google's agreement a "devil's pact with Verizon for tiered internet service." Huffington Post blogger and Free Press president Josh Silver warns, "The deal marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as you know it."

This may in fact be just the latest crack in Google's support for net neutrality. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that Google was approaching broadband providers in the hopes of creating a "fast lane for its own content."

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