News

‘Secret’ Title II Talks Break Off

8/09/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — In this city,
policy brushfires, or bonfires,
are frequently banked until after
Labor Day.

Not this summer.

Last week saw the collapse of
stakeholder talks about a possible
legislative solution to clarifying
the FCC’s broadband authority.
That came not long after reports
that two of the stakeholders
had cut a side deal on networkmanagement
policy.

“We have called off this round of
stakeholder discussions,” FCC chief
of staff Edward Lazarus said last
Thursday, pleasing network neutrality
supporters, such as Free Press,
which had criticized the talks.

“It has been productive on several
fronts, but has not generated
a robust framework to preserve
the openness and freedom of the
Internet,” Lazarus said.

That leaves the FCC to continue
to collect string on its proposal
to reclassify broadband as a Title
II common-carrier service on its
own authority, and to contemplate
the pushback from a majority
of Congress on that effort.

Hours earlier, FCC chairman
Julius Genachowski faced a raft of
questions about the “secret” Title
II talks and reports of a pending
agreement between Verizon and
Google on network management.

In a press conference, he took
issue with the characterization
of the talks as secret meetings or
that they were being conducted
among a hand-picked group.

The FCC had been posting notices
of the meetings on its Web
site, but was not counting them
as ex parte contacts on either its
network-neutrality rulemaking
or Title II inquiry.

Some of those not at the meetings
have complained loudly about
not being part of the conversation.
Asked if holding secret talks and
potential side deals was selling out
network-neutrality backers, the
chairman said they were “obviously”
not secret and that “any deal
that does not preserve the freedom
and openness of the Internet
for consumers and entrepreneurs
would be unacceptable.”

He would not comment on
whether he would put reclassification on the September meeting
agenda.

Google and Verizon said last
week they had not struck a deal in
which Google or YouTube would
pay to prioritize their traffic.

The companies did not comment
on a report that they had
come to a broader agreement on
so-called managed services, and
one that would exclude wireless
broadband from a network neutrality
framework.

“We have not had any conversations
with Verizon about paying
for carriage of Google or YouTube
traffic,” Google spokesperson Mistique
Cano said. A Verizon spokesperson
made a similar statement.

As to the initial Bloomberg report
that Google had an agreement
with Verizon more generally on Web
traffic management, Cano had no
comment beyond saying: “We remain
as committed as we always
have been to an open Internet.”

Verizon and Google already agree
on a number of network neutrality
issues, having filed joint comments
outlining points of agreement on
the FCC’s network-neutrality rulemaking
and having worked for
months toward an agreement on
network management.

If a deal for prioritizing Google
content was not being talked
about by the companies, as both
companies contended, it was certainly
a hot topic of conversation
by their critics.

“Google is trying to do damage
control by saying that they haven’t
‘had any conversations with Verizon
about paying for carriage of
Google traffic,’ ” Derek Turner of
Free Press said. “But this is sleightof-
hand … They apparently have
come to an agreement on what
is known as ‘managed services,’
or ‘specialized services.’ This is a
scheme where ISPs will devote a
physical or virtual ‘pipe’ to specific
content that gets priority treatment,
and these relationships can
include fees for carriage.”

Supporting a pay-for-priority
system to ensure speed and quality
of service for video could be in
Google’s interest given its push
into longer-form, ad-supported
video. Cano had no comment.

September