Google, Verizon push back on net-neutrality agreement reports

Google and Verizon are pushing back against reports they have struck a deal that would undercut net neutrality.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the two companies are nearing an agreement that would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide faster access to some Web content if the creators are willing to pay for the privilege. Such an arrangement would be directly opposed to the principle of net neutrality, which Google has publicly supported for years.

Both Google and Verizon denied aspects of the Times report and claimed they remain committed to an open framework for the Internet. Google tweeted that it has not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of its traffic, and Verizon said the report misunderstands the purpose of the discussions.

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When contacted by The Hill on Thursday, both Google and Verizon declined to comment on the talks, which have been ongoing since October. The companies have framed the discussions as an attempt to narrow the distance between their diverging views on net neutrality; in the past Google has been a strong opponent of allowing ISPs to discriminate in favor of certain content, while Verizon has maintained that carriers need discretion to protect the performance of networks.

However, the Times reported the two could announce an agreement as soon as next week that could eventually lead to higher prices for consumers. Public interest groups and supporters of net neutrality immediately lashed out at both companies.

“The potential deal between two broadband behemoths underscores the need for the FCC to act quickly to protect the free and open Internet. In the absence of such action, it’s increasingly clear that cozy cooperation between communications colossi will reign on the Internet," said Rep. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyWarren proposes 'Blue New Deal' to protect oceans There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trump administration drops plan to face scan all travelers leaving or entering US MORE (D-Mass.) in a statement.



"No one should be surprised that such companies will seek to slant the playing field in their favor, a result that will stifle the next generation of Internet innovators and short-circuit the economic benefits needed to power our economy in the 21st century," Markey added.

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Google denied aspects of the Times story but refused to confirm or deny whether its stance on net neutrality has changed in recent weeks or months. However, comments from CEO Eric Schmidt on Wednesday indicate some new flexibility with regards to the definition of net neutrality; he said it is OK to discriminate between various types of content, such as video versus text or audio.

Both companies were taking part in ongoing discussions at the FCC with regards to possible legislative language before the Commission cancelled the discussions on Thursday, claiming they had failed to generate a robust framework to preserve an open Internet. An FCC spokesperson said all options remain on the table with regards to the issue.

"Any outcome, any deal that doesn't preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet for consumers and entrepreneurs will be unacceptable," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at a press conference Thursday. 

The FCC has faced strong opposition to its plan to reclassify broadband as a telecom service so it can impose net neutrality. Legislation looks increasingly to be the most likely option for the implementation of such a rule.