Google/Verizon Deal Marks a Line in Net Neutrality Sand

Aug. 9, 2010 - The Washington Post reported on Monday that Verizon and Google have negotiated an agreement regarding prioritizing the transmission of certain content over the Internet. On Friday, rumors of an impending deal had scuttled net neutrality discussions the Federal Communications Commission had been conducting, according to Politico.

The net neutrality dispute centers on the idea of creating a tiered system on the Internet that would allow for the movement of huge data sets at high speeds on a separate tier. Companies that deal with moving giant packages around on the net, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast Cable, are in favor of the tiered system. The Verizon/Google deal makes a distinction between mobile networks and more traditional networks. The deal contains no net neutrality guarantees for traditional networks, according to the Washington Post article, and features an explicit two-tiered system for mobile networks. Opponents to a tiered system -- such as "Save the Internet," a coalition of citizens, businesses and non-profits -- say the deal would make it difficult for newer, smaller organizations to compete on the Internet.

The purpose of original FCC discussions was to reach an agreement among industry players and interest groups without new legislation. The FCC believes it has the congressional authority to regulate the Internet, a contention disputed by Comcast and others. According to the New York Times, the deal says that "nonwireless Internet providers should not be able to discriminate against or offer paid prioritization to any Internet content providers, and that the FCC should have the authority to stop or fine those who break these rules."

In the summer of 2006, Internet industry heavyweight Google was describing the possibility of a regulated Internet as “a serious threat.” Since then, Google has undergone a shift in attitudes towards favoring a more tier-friendly “Third-Way.” The coalition of net neutrality supporters has seen its money power significantly diminish with the recent change of heart on the part of Google.

Google and its employees have given $1,640,984 in contributions to candidate campaign committees of lawmakers serving in Congress since the 2006 election cycle. That’s the kind of money that would have given heft to smaller organizations who support net neutrality like the Consumer Federation of America and the American Library Association (who gave a combined $10,350 in contributions since the 2006 election cycle). Money is an important factor when AT&T is already on the other side of an issue. In the same time frame, AT&T and its employees have given $8,470,139 to members of Congress. According to OpenSecrets.org's “Top Ten Heavy Hitters” list, AT&T has given $45,279,674 in total political contributions to candidates and party committees since 1989. Net neutrality opponent Verizon occupies the 32nd position on the heavy hitters list with  $19,152,913 in contributions.

Net Neutrality in Congress

HR 3458, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, was introduced by Democratic Rep. Edward Markey. The House bill would grant FCC regulatory powers over the Internet. S 1836, the Internet Freedom Act of 2009, introduced by Sen. John McCain was designed to prohibit the FCC from regulating the Internet.

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