When the Federal Communications Commission cancelled debate and negotiations regarding net neutrality issues last week, rumors were flying that Google and Verizon were dealing in an effort to derail net neutrality. Before the day was over, both Google and Verizon were denying the rumors and declaring their commitment to net neutrality and an open Internet.
PCWorld.com's Tony Bradley observed that shutting down the talks was smart on the FCC's part, because "[t]he FCC negotiations sought to compromise with the industry - the very nature of which implies that the agency would be making concessions in order to appease companies like Verizon and Comcast." Instead of negotiating behind closed doors with some of those who are interested in the outcome, Bradley says the FCC should simply "oversee the industry without apologizing or asking permission."
The agency was on the right track with the proposed "third way" compromise on net neutrality that is in the midst of a public comment period. Hearing all the options and the viewpoints of all the stakeholders before making a decision is the best approach, he says. I agree.
The regulatory rulemaking process is set up the way it is to foster such information-gathering and public debate and negotiation. But once that public comment period is over, the FCC is the body that must make a decision.
So when I first saw that Google and Verizon were indeed collaborating on a proposal, my gut reaction was to be annoyed,"What? Are they trying to do the FCC's job now?" But then I read a little more and realized they collaborated on what could be a comment to the FCC's proposed rule, which is fine. Microsoft presented the FCC with another option in its comment some time ago, too.
What I don't get is why they didn't just comment on the proposed rule in the already established manner? Do they plan to submit the proposal as a comment, or do they somehow think they're above the normal process?
That question aside, though, reaction to the proposal has been interesting to watch. In an e-mailed statement, Media Access Project SVP Andrew Jay Schwartzman said, in part:
The plan that Google and Verizon announced today falls far short of protecting the needs of American Internet users...[T]here would be no protection for wireless users. This alone makes the plan a non-starter. One other particularly unacceptable provision is the requirement that a complainant must prove actual consumer harm. In practice, this poses a nearly insurmountable burden, since it is often impossible for consumers to know what practices are being employed.
And in a Huffington Post article, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green said the "proposal" convinced him that Google has gone "evil." Green wrote:
Today's deal was unneeded, uncalled for, and incompatible with Google's "don't be evil" mantra. Google's decision to cut a deal with Verizon [reeks] of either impatience or fear. Either Google wasn't willing to wait for the Verizons of the world to crumble and die -- and therefore moved its own business development timeline up 5 or 10 years at the expense of the entire American public. Or, Google feared doing the dirty work that comes with being a leader... feared actually having to fulfill [its] potential to defeat the bad guys.
If this proposal is actually submitted as a comment to the FCC's proposed rulemaking, good for Google and Verizon. It will be considered with all the other comments. If they're trying to work their way around the system, too bad. They had the opportunity and missed it.