Google defends 'sell-out' on Net neutrality

Google has hit out at claims that it sold out on the principle of Net neutrality in an attempt to cash in on the mobile market with its Android operating system.

The search giant this week published an agreement with US wireless carrier Verizon, detailing joint proposals for the future regulation of Internet traffic. News of the breakaway negotiations had earlier scuppered wider talks involving US telecoms regulator the FCC.

Google and Verizon's proposals accept the principle of Net neutrality for fixed-line broadband connections, but allow network providers to prioritise traffic to mobile devices - and, crucially, leave open the possibility of premium services being created outside of the publicly-accessible Internet.

Critics slammed the deal as a sell-out. Now Google has hit back, branding the accusation a "myth".

"No other company is working as tirelessly for an open internet," claimed Richard Whitt, Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, in a blog post.

Whitt reacted strongly to accusations that Google's deal with Verizon was motivated by a desire to push its Android mobile operating system.

"This is a policy proposal - not a business deal," he said. "Of course, Google has a close business relationship with Verizon, but ultimately this proposal has nothing to do with Android."

All the same, he was forced to acknowledge that the deal represented a change in the search giant's attitude to Net neutrality on mobile Internet services.

"It's true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services," Whitt said.

"However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye."

Fending off suggestions of a stitch-up between two major players, Whitt said that the Google-Verizon deal was just the beginning of a process toward a new regulatory regime.

"It's up to Congress, the FCC, other policymakers - and the American public - to take it from here. Whether you favor our proposal or not, we urge you to take your views directly to your Senators and Representatives in Washington."

Whitt reckoned the deal was good for consumers. The FCC, he said, currently has no legal powers to enforce Net neutrality - meaning that consumers enjoy no protection from the worst abuses of network providers. In his view, the new proposals were a step in the right direction.

"We're not saying this solution is perfect," Whitt stated. "But we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all."