Google and Verizon unveil web plan

Google and Verizon walked into a barrage of opposition from public interest groups in Washington on Monday as they formally announced a joint proposal for how traffic on the internet should be regulated.

The biggest US internet and telecommunications groups said their plan, the first reports of which emerged last week, would ensure all services on the internet were treated equally – “net neutrality” – and the web would remain a fully open medium.

But they said network operators should be able to charge more for a category of services that travel over a higher-quality connection separate from the public internet. They also proposed that wireless companies should be free to block individual internet services, provided they disclosed their actions.

Services likely to travel over the communications “fast lanes” included high-bandwidth content such as healthcare and education and entertainment such as 3D video, said Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon chief executive.

The greater freedoms proposed by Google and Verizon drew condemnation from public interest groups that have supported the Obama administration’s push for net neutrality.

Free Press claimed the plan would “divide the information superhighway, creating new private fast lanes for the big players while leaving the little guy stranded on a winding dirt road.” The Center for Democracy and Technology said that while it supported the rules that would prevent discrimination, the extra freedoms the groups were proposing would undermine the plan’s value.

Early reports of the joint proposal had already prompted strong attacks on Google, with critics claiming it was backing away from its commitment to net neutrality in favour of an approach that would mainly favour rich, established groups.

Eric Schmidt, chief executive, defended his company’s position. Google continued to believe in an open internet supporting future generations of internet upstarts, he said. He said Google would not pay to be carried on the new “fast lanes” it was proposing, but would use the existing public internet for all its services, including YouTube. Existing financial relationships between internet and communications groups created enough incentives for network operators to keep investing in the internet, he said.

The Federal Communications Commission last week called off talks aimed at agreeing rules for net neutrality, and has proposed extending its regulatory remit to enforce a set of internet rules.

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