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Google and Verizon Ink Net Neutrality Deal?

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Although neither company has officially confirmed anything, reports in the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and other outlets have Internet giant Google and telecommunications operator Verizon striking a deal on how to manage broadband traffic—the issue at the heart of the “net neutrality” debate. According to press reports and partially confirmed with sources in both companies, the agreement would prevent Verizon from giving preferential treatment to applications or content providers on its land-based broadband networks, including DSL and fiber services. However, those same non-preferential terms would not apply to mobile services, meaning Verizon would be free to give better network performance to whatever companies and services it liked—or that paid it the most money—and degrade service for applications and companies that don’t play ball.

Neither Google nor Verizon would comment. However, reports have the companies preparing to make a public announcement within a week. Reports have both companies meeting behind closed door with representatives of the Federal Communications Commission. The companies have apparently been working on an agreement for the better part of a year.

Google and Verizon have long butted heads of so-called net neutrality provisions. Google has argued that network operators should treat all network traffic equally so long as it is lawful, without giving preference to any particular applications or services—or, conversely, degrading performance for unfavored service. Verizon, conversely, has described Google and other large Internet companies as having a “free lunch” built on top of telco’s physical infrastructure. Google and Verizon also clashed over the 700 Mhz frequency auction that will (eventually) power 4G mobile broadband solutions; at the time, Verizon pledged to adhere to openness rules laid down by the FCC.

Although the details of a possible pact between Google and Verizon are not yet known, any deal that would see Verizon able to give preferential treatment to particular applications and providers in mobile broadband would seem to fly afoul of Verizon’s pledges to maintain openness in its spectrum—an apparent reversal for a company that once promoted itself as permitting “any app, any device.”

Some industry watchers have speculated Verizon is aiming to provide priority managed services for selected applications, particularly related to health care and/or emergency services. However, priority managed services might also be available to others—like, say, Google—to ensure their applications and services always perform well on Verizon mobile networks, where other services might not be so lucky.

Reports of the deal have triggered a round of criticism from net neutrality advocates and public interest groups. “The financial interests of Google appear to have finally trumped its belief in policies to preserve the open Internet,” wrote Free Press president and CEO Josh Silver, in a statement. “A deal with Verizon cements its market power, and could make it more difficult for new app developers and software entrepreneurs to reach consumers.”

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