Net neutrality D-day

I suppose today could be characterized as "freak out" day for most broadband operators out there. The FCC is scheduled to add two new "principles" of support for net neutrality concepts and essentially codify all six principles the commission has held into official regulations. As such, some strange happenings went on this week.

Verizon Communications CEO Ivan Seidenberg, speaking at the Supercomm trade show yesterday in Chicago, called the proposed net neutrality regulations "extremely troubling," and said new regulations should be applied to telecom companies and Internet firms equally, or else wireless and wireline operators would face unpalatable risks. He singled out Google in that speech.

Hours later, Verizon Wireless and Google, two companies at odds over net neutrality since before the 700 MHz auction, authored a joint position piece about net neutrality, highlighting the areas they agree on. The piece is signed by both Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam. The two companies are becoming extremely cozy, it appears, after striking an agreement that calls for the development of products and services that use Google's Android platform.

"Verizon and Google might seem unlikely bedfellows in the current debate around network neutrality, or an open Internet. And while it's true we do disagree quite strongly about certain aspects of government policy in this area--such as whether mobile networks should even be part of the discussion--there are many issues on which we agree. For starters we both think it's essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform--where people can access any content (so long as it's legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice."

It's somewhat comedic to me that these companies are issuing a joint statement when they can't even agree in the first place as to whether mobile networks should even be part of the net neutrality discussion. But I also found it interesting that Google does in fact agree that broadband network providers should have the flexibility to manage their networks to deal with issues such as traffic congestion, spam and other threats, "so long as they do it reasonably, consistent with their customers' preferences, and don't unreasonably discriminate in ways that either harm users or are anti-competitive." Of course, what is harmful to end users is up to interpretation. You can see the the six aspects these CEOs agree on here.

But Verizon Wireless, at least, has a pretty good thing going here. With Google in its corner, it looks significantly rosier in the debate than AT&T, which was on the defensive earlier this month at the CTIA IT & Entertainment trade show.

AT&T, by the way, has asked its employees to weigh in on the net neutrality debate. AT&T's top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, sent a letter to the company's employees this week urging them to voice their concerns about net neutrality regulations to the FCC ahead of its vote on the issue. Cicconi, who is AT&T's senior executive vice president of legislative and external affairs, said that employees and their family and friends should log onto the FCC's own net neutrality comment website and express their concerns about the proposal.--Lynnette

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