Verizon, Google partnership makes for strange bedfellows

Initially, I wasn't surprised when I heard the news today about the strategic partnership between Verizon Wireless and Google. It's been rumored for months that Verizon would be launching a device (probably from Motorola) using Google's Android operating system, and we expected that the news would likely break this week during the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment conference in San Diego.

But when I listened to the Webcast featuring both Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam and Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt, I quickly realized that something bigger was occurring than a simple partnership in which Verizon would launch a few Android-based handsets.  Although McAdam said that the Google/Verizon deal had nothing to do with the FCC's recent announcement about plans to enforce net neutrality rules on wireless and wireline networks, it's clear to me that Verizon is launching a very strategic play. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Verizon's partnership with Google is really about making Verizon look pro-net neutrality so that the FCC doesn't feel the need to impose any net neutrality regulations.

In September, when the FCC announced that it would implement net neutrality regulations against both wireless and wireline networks, Verizon was adamantly opposed to the idea. In a statement, Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice president of regulatory affairs said,  "We believe that when the FCC reviews the record and looks at the facts, it will be clear that there is no current problem which justifies the risk of imposing a new set of regulations that will limit consumer choices and affect content providers, application developers, device manufacturers and network builders."

But it's clear that many consumers and consumer advocates support the idea of net neutrality. And Verizon has had a long history of playing the consumer-friendly carrier, and reversing its position and opposing the rest of the industry.  Remember when Verizon reversed itself on number portability? The carrier came out in favor of number portability after having adamantly opposed it, along with all the other U.S. carriers and the CTIA. 

I think this scenario could be happening again. Perhaps Verizon realizes that the best stance is to appear aligned with the FCC. And what better way to prove that than to partner with long-time net neutrality advocate Google? But Google and Verizon make strange bedfellows.  The companies have long been at odds when it comes to wireless--that's why this partnership and Schmidt's effusive praise of Verizon's leadership and Verizon's network seem so strange to me.  During the conference call, Schmidt talked about how Verizon's data network "is by far the best in the U.S." I wonder how long-time Android supporter T-Mobile USA feels about that statement.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this Google/Verizon partnership and whether Verizon continues to oppose net neutrality.  I'm sure we will hear more about this topic at CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment this week.  As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic. -- Sue

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