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FCC Mutes Closed-Door Net Neutrality Talks

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has put the kibosh on any further closed-door discussions between the agency, carriers, ISPs, and other powerful parties that were reportedly being held to discuss compromises that could affect a new set of rules that govern broadband.

"We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions," FCC chief of staff Edward Lazarus said, in a statement issued Thursday. "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 decision to pull the plug on those talks arrived a day after Bloomberg reported that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) had hatched a plan that would let the telco prioritize or slow down some Internet traffic, but that such policies would not be applied to wireless Internet access. It's also been reported that other stakeholders, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , and Skype Ltd. , were also working on agreements linked to Network Neutrality.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who is advocating a "Third Way" on how the FCC runs broadband policy, said today at a news conference that any notion that the meetings were "secret" is false because the meetings had been posted on the FCC's Website, and that the Commission was consulting on the issue with a "very broad degree of stakeholders." (See Cable Tees Off on FCC's 'Third Way' Proposal.)

But groups that were outside that circle, including Free Press , have been outraged since the original report of the meetings surfaced, fearing that private deals would undermine the FCC's ability to keep the Internet free and open.

"We're relieved to see that the FCC now apparently finds dangerous side deals from companies like Verizon and Google to be distasteful and unproductive," Free Press research director S. Derek Turner said in a statement.

Verizon spokesman David Fish acknowledged that the telco has been working with Google for 10 months on a broadband policy agreement, but didn't divulge the nature of those talks.

"We are currently engaged in and committed to the negotiation process led by the FCC. We are optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet and the investment and innovation required to sustain it," he added.

The New York Times reported that Google and Verizon were working on a premium-level broadband expressway of sorts that would benefit Internet video giant YouTube Inc. .

A blog post today from Fish characterized the NYT report as "mistaken."

"To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect," he wrote.

Google echoed as much, stating that the NYT story "is quite simply wrong... We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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