Google and Verizon reveal Net neutrality deal

Internet search giant Google and US wireless carrier Verizon yesterday laid bare the agreement that brought a halt to FCC discussions on Net neutrality.

And, while it pays lip service to the principle of Net neutrality - the idea that all data on the Internet should be given equal priority, and that no traffic should be held back to make way for a paid-for 'fast lane' - the document also raises some serious questions.

"The original architects of the Internet got the big things right. By making the network open, they enabled the greatest exchange of ideas in history," the two companies said in a joint statement.

"It is imperative that we find ways to protect the future openness of the Internet and encourage the rapid deployment of broadband."

But critics are already suggesting that the agreement lays the foundations for a two-tier Internet.

The document - which the companies were at pains to point out is not a business arrangement - maintains that there should be no prioritisation of traffic over fixed-line Internet connections, which would remain regulated by the FCC.

But due, it says, to "unique technical and operational characteristics", no such guarantee was made for mobile broadband.

The proposals also plot an uncertain role for US telecoms regulator the FCC.

The two firms agreed that the FCC should continue to regulate broadband, with the ability to impose fines of up to $2 million on a "case-by-case" basis - but not have the power to create new rules enforcing Net neutrality.

Google and Verizon's plan would also allow providers to develop new, prioritised services that lie outside of the scope of the publicly accessible internet.

"Our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services offered today," the two conspiritors said.

Another key feature of the agreement is that it protects "lawful" traffic from discriminatory practices such as prioritisation - but leaves open the question as to whether file-sharing services such as BitTorrent might be regarded as 'unlawful', and subject to bandwidth throttling.

The plan also reserves the right of network providers to engage in "reasonable network management".

The current agreement is the result of more than a year of negotiations. It is unclear whether any other industry players plan to support the proposals.