Google and Verizon in Talks on Selling Internet Priority
By EDWARD WYATT
Published: August 4, 2010
WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that 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.
Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.
Any agreement between Verizon and Google could also upend the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to assert its authority over broadband service, which was severely restricted by a federal appeals court decision in April.
People close to the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly about them said an agreement could be reached as soon as next week. If completed, Google, whose Android operating system powers many Verizon wireless phones, would agree not to challenge Verizon’s ability to manage its broadband Internet network as it pleased.
Since the court decision, involving Comcast, in April, the F.C.C. has been trying to find a way to regulate broadband delivery, and that effort has been the subject of a series of private meetings at the agency’s headquarters in recent weeks. At the meetings, officials from the nation’s biggest Internet service and content providers, including Google and Verizon, have tried to reach a consensus on how broadband Internet service should be regulated in light of the decision. Those meetings continued this week, apart from the talks between Google and Verizon.
The court decision said the F.C.C. lacked the authority to require that an Internet service provider refrain from blocking or slowing down some content or applications, or giving favor to others. The F.C.C. has since sought another way in which to enforce the concept of net neutrality. But its proposals have been greeted with much objection in Congress and among Internet service providers, cable companies and some Internet content producers.
A spokesman for Verizon said that the company was still engaged in the larger talks to reach a consensus at the F.C.C. and declined to comment on other negotiations. A spokeswoman for Google also declined to comment. While a deal between Google and Verizon would affect only those two companies, it could sway the opinions of lawmakers, many of whom have questioned the wisdom of the F.C.C.’s plans to oversee broadband service.
At issue for consumers is how the companies that provide the pipeline to the Internet will ultimately direct traffic on their system, and how quickly consumers are able to gain access to certain Web content. Consumers could also see continually rising bills for Internet service, much as they have for cable television.
The prospect of a Google-Verizon agreement infuriates many consumer advocates, who feel that it would concentrate in a few corporations control of what to date has been a free and open Internet system in which consumers decide which companies are successful.
“The point of a network neutrality rule is to prevent big companies from dividing the Internet between them,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and a founder of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. “The fate of the Internet is too large a matter to be decided by negotiations involving two companies, even companies as big as Verizon and Google.”
It is not clear that the Google-Verizon talks will result in a deal, or that any agreement would extend beyond those companies. David M. Fish, a spokesman for Verizon, acknowledged the talks, saying, “We’ve been working with Google for 10 months to reach an agreement on broadband policy.”
But, Mr. Fish added, “We are currently engaged in and committed to the negotiation process led by the F.C.C. We are optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet, and the investment and innovation required to sustain it.”