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Google, Verizon deny secret FCC end run

Network neutrality battle cranks up to 11

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As The Reg reported early Thursday, the Wall Street Journal claims that Google and Verizon are in talks to create a tiered pay system for content.

The same sub-rosa confabs were also cited by The New York Times, which said that an agreement could be reached "as soon as next week". According to the WSJ, "a tentative agreement on managing network traffic ... could be announced as soon as Friday."

Google, however, says that the NYT is "wrong". Verizon says that the NYT is "mistaken".

If such an agreement is reached, it would — in the NYT's words — "overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality," and eventually lead to multiple tiers of internet-access services, with users paying higher fees for "premium" service, much as cable telelvision and broadband subscribers do today.

Thursday morning, however, Google and Verizon tried to throw cold water on the resulting firestorm of outcry from net-neut supporters. Google's Public Policy arm tweeted: "@NYTimes is wrong. We've not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet."

A Google spokesperson offered a slightly more-complete but essentially identical response to the WSJ, saying: "The New York Times is quite simply wrong. We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google or YouTube traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet."

Verizon, for its part, responded to a Reg request for comment on Thursday by saying: "The New York Times article regarding conversations between Google and Verizon is mistaken. It fundamentally misunderstands our purpose. As we said in our earlier FCC filing, our goal is an Internet policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation. To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect."

Both the WSJ and the NYT reported that the FCC had been holding meetings with net-neut stakeholders such as Google, Verizon, AT&T, Skype, the Open Internet Coalition, the National Cable & Telecommunoications Association (NCTA) to hammer out net-neut policies. The WSJ characterized the meetings as "private" and "closed door", while the NYT reported that FCC staffers "jokingly" refer to the meetings as "secret."

Maybe so, but FCC chairman Julius Genachowshi doesn't think so. When asked at a press conference following the a Thursday public FCC meeting if his commission was holding secret meetings, he retorted: "The talks obviously aren't secret."

Genachowski also noted that any net-neut deal "that does not preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet for consumers and entrepreneurs would be unacceptable."

And so the dance goes on — a three-way two-step featuring self-described pro net-neut supporters such as Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay, and others; anti net-neuts such as AT&T, Verizon, the NCTA, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and others; and an FCC weakened by a federal court decision in the Comcast BitTorrent case but seeking a "third way" to shore up its regulatory powers, stuck in the middle.

If you're wondering which side will prevail, here's a bit of interesting data to chew on: according to a recent report, the anti net-neuts outspent the pro net-neuts by four-to-one in lobbying fees during the first quarter of 2010. ®

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