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Originally published Friday, August 13, 2010 at 3:39 PM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

FCC should reject the Google-Verizon net-neutrality plan

The Google and Verizon net-neutrality plan is bad policy that will only benefit the two companies. The FCC should quickly reject the proposal, writes Ryan Blethen.

Times editorial page editor

The only thing transparent about the Google and Verizon plan for net neutrality is how disingenuous it is.

The proposal from the two outsized corporations would essentially starve the open Internet in favor of a well-maintained, pay-to-play Internet and completely wall off wireless Internet from even the most minimal open-access rules.

What I find most maddening about the Google-Verizon plan is that it could have been headed off if not for the lethargy of the Federal Communications Commission, the regulatory agency charged to work in the public's interest. Google and Verizon filled the void with a proposal that would harm consumers and restrict innovation while ceding control of the Internet to broadband oligarchs.

Corporations drawing up regulatory rules is nothing new, but it doesn't mean it is right. Especially for the Internet, which has flourished because it has remained an open platform. Net-neutrality rules would ensure that the Internet remain open by keeping Internet service providers from charging for content to move across networks.

The FCC partly brought this on itself. Blame also can be heaped on a federal court ruling earlier this year in favor of Comcast that hamstrung the FCC's ability to implement net-neutrality rules.

The court ruling wasn't enough to stop the FCC, but it seems to have paralyzed FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. He could have the FCC reclassify broadband so it falls squarely under the commission's purview. Instead, he has put off a decision in what appears to be an attempt not to anger Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast or Congress, which is split on the issue.

There is a faction in Congress that believes it should decide whether broadband can be reclassified. The more technologically enlightened members of Congress have been urging Genachowski to use his commission's rightful authority.

Instead, Genachowski held closed-door meetings with the Internet and wireless heavyweights. He called those meetings off Aug. 6, three days before Verizon and Google revealed their plan.

If Genachowski doesn't want to tick off the Internet and wireless giants, he could try to get the FCC to adopt the Google-Verizon plan.

What he must remember is that doing so would rile up a group that is good at being riled: Internet and consumer advocacy groups, which includes everyone from Christian broadcasters to the liberal organizations that helped elect his boss — President Obama, a one-time vocal supporter of net neutrality.

A retreat from net neutrality seems to be contagious. Until this year, Google was one of the leading proponents of net neutrality. Apparently, net neutrality doesn't look so good when there is a need for new revenue streams, which have been realized by Google's expansion into the wireless market.

Google's malleable principles shouldn't be those of the FCC, whose mission is to ensure public policy that fosters diverse and strong systems of digital communications. Google's mission is doing evil by consolidating its already too-large share of the digital advertising market and picking up the scraps left behind by Verizon and other Internet service providers.

It is time the FCC not worry about the interests of huge corporations and focus on good public policy instead. Kill the Google-Verizon scheme before it gains traction.

Ryan Blethen's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: rblethen@seattletimes.com

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