August 6, 2010

FCC Halts Net Neutrality Talks

As Google and Verizon privately neared an agreement that would determine how Internet traffic moves across land lines and to wireless devices, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday announced that they were abandoning their efforts to broker a similar "net neutrality" deal.

"We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions," Edward Lazarus, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's Chief of Staff, told reporters in a statement. "It has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet--one that drives innovation, investment, free speech, and consumer choice. All options remain on the table as we continue to seek broad input on this vital issue."

The rumored side deal between the two tech companies, both of which were heavily involved in the FCC negotiations, may have had a negative impact on the talks, according to some analysts. Whatever the cause, "The collapse means Genachowski may have to decide how to regulate Internet access without further input from the industry," reports John Poirier of Reuters.

"His decision will likely be challenged in court," adds Poirier.

News of the proposed deal between Google and Verizon first broke on Wednesday, and under the alleged agreement, Verizon promised not to block or slow traffic over landlines. They could, however, still do so to mobile devices, and would also allow faster access to those willing to pay premium prices for it--specifically, those who game or watch videos online--according to various media reports.

Experts suggest that radical changes could be in store as a result of the agreement.

"The deal marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as you know it," Josh Silver, president of the Free Press consumer group, told BBC News technology writer Maggie Shiels on Friday, "Since its beginnings, the net was a level playing field that allowed all content to move at the same speed, whether it's ABC News or your uncle's video blog. That's all about to change."

eBay Chief Technology Officer Mark Carges added that the online auction site "supports net neutrality legislation that will prohibit phone and cable companies from replacing the robust open internet with 'Pay to Play' private networks that will force out and discriminate against content and service providers that refuse to pay new tolls."

"Consumers, non-profits and businesses already pay for access to the internet," he added. "Broadband providers should not be permitted to 'double dip' by charging consumers twice for high-speed internet access."


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