By David Lieberman
August 6, 2010
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday reaffirmed its commitment to an open Internet and scuttled a potentially embarrassing effort by Google and Verizon to propose rules that would enable Web providers to favor some services.
The FCC called off discussions that it was having with Internet services and providers to help develop new rules for the Web. They had not "generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet," chief of staff Edward Lazarus said in a statement. Still, "All options remain on the table as we continue to seek broad input," he said.
Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst at Stifel Financial, says, "It sounds like (the FCC) is hitting the reset button" on its effort to develop Internet rules.
The FCC decision followed reports involving Google and Verizon that put FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, an outspoken supporter of so-called net neutrality, in an awkward position.
Publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post cited unnamed sources who said that Google would join with Verizon to propose rules that would enable companies like Google to pay for special treatment - for example, to have its services delivered faster than those from rivals. That would mean Google had abandoned its powerful support for net neutrality.
Prior to the FCC announcement, Google said the reports were "premature."
Genachowski had encouraged companies to suggest policy changes to make them comfortable with his effort to reassert the FCC's authority to regulate the Web, something that the U.S. Court of Appeals largely stripped away in a ruling in April.
"We were concerned about the negotiations because they were largely restricted to the biggest industry players," says Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, an open Internet advocacy group.
She and other net neutrality supporters say that Genachowski should fight for what he wants, instead of compromising with Internet services and providers. But companies involved in the process lament the FCC's decision.
"There needs to be a balance, which means that all participants should work to find common ground," says Thomas Tauke, Verizon executive vice president.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow says that he's "disappointed that all issues could not be resolved."
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