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Is the Google-Verizon Proposal a Killer App in the Broadband Debate?

Google and Verizon have finally released the details of the policy proposal they have been negotiating for nearly a year now, and the news has generated enormous chatter around Washington and across the blogosphere, with bloggers panning it andwatchdog groups warning of the end of the internet as we know it.

Obviously, advocacy groups on both sides are focused on the substance of the agreement. But I am more interested in what this means for the policy process, and how effective it will be in nudging Congress and the FCC to clarify the rules of the game for broadband internet service.What these two companies have provided is helpful: a concrete policy proposal that Congress and the FCC can consider, and that imposes a framework for targeted comments from the industry and watchdog groups.

In fact, given the weight of these two companies and the collapse last week of the FCC’s attempts at talks, the roll-out for this proposal may make it a “killer app” in the broadband debate (and not simply an internet killer, as some are calling it).Now that Google and Verizon have put a policy proposal on paper, it becomes the baseline that everyone else has to support or oppose to some degree, including FCC commissioners and members of Congress.Pressuring leaders to make decisions is an appropriate goal, and that’s what this proposal does.

As for the proposal itself, it should be judged as a work in progress.Many of the principles themselves are worthy goals: giving consumers freedom to choose content, applications, and devices; requiring more product transparency from service providers, and prohibiting paid fast lanes for internet traffic. The recommendation that the FCC have real teeth to enforce violations of the proposed rules on a case-by-case basis is a good one.

If the kind of self-regulation proposed for the broadband internet industry is going to be successful, there also needs to be enough competition in the market to empower consumers to punish service providers for violating the principles that Google and Verizon have laid out.That means that in addition to policing the market for bad apples, the FCC needs to be vigilant in monitoring the health and competitiveness of the market for broadband internet access.If there are enough companies offering similar services, and the FCC and watchdog groups hold companies publicly accountable for their behavior by informing consumers of violations, consumers can play a valuable role in policing the market by switching providers when they feel their content or services are being unfairly restricted.

Both CEOs acknowledge that “no two companies should be so presumptuous as to think they can solve this challenge alone,” and no one should see this as an end to the debate.Verizon and Google have given everyone involved a chance to speed up the process by narrowing the conversation to actual yes-or-no decision making.I commend these companies for at least trying to move the ball forward with a good-faith proposal.

Photo Credit:  Peter Huys’s Photostream


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