Verizon has a love-hate relationship with Net Neutrality. The company professes its love of the open Internet, but then tries to smother it with a pillow in the middle of the night.
The company's strained relationship with openness was evident yesterday when Verizon asked a federal appeals court to overturn an extremely weak Federal Communications Commission rule protecting Net Neutrality -- the principle that guarantees Internet users' the right to go where they want and do what they choose online.
Ironically, the rule in question, adopted by the FCC just last month, was modeled after a vastly unpopular "policy framework" drafted by Verizon and Google attorneys in August. (Nate Anderson of ArsTechnica lays out these similarities in graphic detail).
So why, then, is Verizon now challenging a rule that the FCC crafted to appease, well, Verizon?
Apparently, the company wants us to believe that its devotion to the open Internet is absolute, and that it simply doesn't require pesky rules to stay honest.
"Verizon has long been committed to preserving an open Internet and meeting the needs of our customers," said Michael Glover, its deputy general counsel, in a statement yesterday. He added, however, that the company's legal challenge was in opposition to the idea that the FCC be given any authority to test this commitment.
Like Comcast before it, Verizon is arguing that we simply need to trust that it will keep its promises and protect the Internet's democratic nature.
It's the same kind of trust that BP asked for when the oil company spent millions to lobby Washington for regulatory leniency in advance of last April's Deepwater Horizon disaster.
It's the same kind of trust that Goldman Sachs wanted when it spent millions to lobby Washington for regulatory leniency in advance of the 2008 mortgage meltdown.
In retrospect, it's crazy to think that this spin still finds an audience in Washington. But Verizon is actually arguing that Internet access, an essential pathway to economic growth and opportunity for millions of people, should be left entirely to its discretion, free from any checks against the type of blocking and discrimination that many Internet providers have talked about implementing.
In a widely reported legal contortion, Verizon's attorneys based the company's appeal on the notion that the FCC order changes the terms of its existing wireless spectrum licenses. These sorts of license appeals must be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the same court that in April ruled that the FCC had overstepped its authority when it sanctioned Comcast for blocking legal file-sharing applications. This circuit is thought to be the most industry-friendly of the 11 circuit courts of appeal, according to Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project.
There's a simple reason we create regulatory public policy, and all of Verizon's claims shouldn't persuade the court or the FCC otherwise. It's this: The only thing you can trust about Verizon is that it seeks to boost its bottom line and serve shareholders by any means possible. That's the nature of corporations. And naturally, the public shouldn't expect corporations like Verizon to put our best interests first.
Sound public policy is designed for that role -- to make corporations behave in ways that don't harm the rest of us without driving them out of business.
What will keep Verizon honest and committed to an open Internet are clear rules of the road and a real watchdog to enforce them.
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