Google, Verizon Propose Open Internet Framework

Google and Verizon Communications’ proposal for Internet regulation touched off plenty of consternation this week, with several groups voicing concern over the plan’s ideas on access to cellular networks and future broadband services. After reports of a possible Google-Verizon net-neutrality agreement surfaced last week, the two companies released on Monday what they call “a proposed open Internet framework for the consideration of policymakers” (i.e., the Federal Communications Commission).

Google has long fostered the idea of a truly open Internet, and the document states that the two companies’ primary goal is to “preserve the open Internet … and promote continued investment in broadband access.” However, under the Google-Verizon proposal, broadband providers would be able to offer “additional or differentiated online services.”

Many net-neutrality proponents believe this would open the door for a tiered system of broadband Internet access similar to cable television. While the entire public would have access to this “open Internet,” providers could develop new broadband services that could include “traffic prioritization.”

During a joint conference call on the proposal, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg offered an example of potential differentiated services: streaming Metropolitan Opera performances in 3D to users in the home. These users may be interested in a higher tier of connectivity and quality than the public Internet can offer on its own. This could conceivably apply to major sporting events as well; some major sporting events, The Masters golf tournament among them, have already been streamed online in 3D.

Although the plan guarantees an open public Internet for wired broadband services, it takes a hands-off approach to cellular-based Web services, exempting wireless services from net neutrality. Cellular Internet access has rapidly grown into a valuable market for telecommunications companies like Verizon, with mobile devices like Apple’s iPhone and iPad and Google’s Droid platform continuing to click with consumers. The Google-Verizon proposal suggests a wait-and-see attitude toward wireless given “the competitive and still-developing nature of wireless broadband.”

Both Verizon and Google are currently being pulled in every direction. While broadband operators like Verizon have experienced a growing demand for high-end broadband, they also must provide a lower level of service to appease the entire customer base. Google has tenaciously argued in favor of an open Internet model but also sees potential opportunities in the new proposal. In a joint blog post, the two companies laid out a plan they believe can appease all parties involved.