From Google and Verizon, a path to an open Internet

We have spent much of the past year trying to resolve our differences over the thorny issue of “network neutrality.” This hasn’t been an easy process, and Google and Verizon are neither regulators nor legislators. But as leaders in our respective fields, we have searched for workable public policies that serve consumer interests and create a climate for investment and innovation. What has kept us at the table and moving toward compromise was our mutual interest in a robust Internet and our recognition that progress would occur only when players from across the Internet space work together.

The proposal we outlined Monday as a suggested policy framework for lawmakers translates these principles into a fully enforceable broadband Internet policy. In developing this framework, we were guided by two principles: our commitment to an open Internet, and the need for continued investment in broadband infrastructure, which is critical to U.S. global competitiveness.

First, our policy framework states that consumers should be able to choose any lawful content, services or applications they want; in other words, they can choose whatever Internet service they want, go to whatever legal Web sites they want, and use whatever software or applications they want. Our companies have long supported the FCC’s openness principles toward wireline broadband, and we also believe that blocking and degrading Internet traffic is antithetical to the principle of openness and to consumers’ expectations.

Consumers also should be able to access the Internet free from discrimination that is harmful to users or competition. Our proposed policy presumes that prioritization of Internet traffic — such as slowing down delivery of one video file so another’s arrives more quickly — is harmful. Further, we agree that transparency with users is key and that all broadband providers, including wireless providers, should be required to share with their customers in concise, plain language information that explains the kinds of Internet access services they are receiving and the provider’s traffic management practices. But Internet service providers should also have a fair amount of flexibility to manage their networks and the opportunity to provide additional services — such as telework applications, health monitoring services or optimized gaming — so long as these services do not affect consumers’ ability to simply access their favorite sites over the open Internet offerings that this framework would protect.

With respect to wireless broadband networks, we agree that the rapidly evolving wireless Internet is a different kind of network, with unique technical and operational challenges, demanding different consideration than wireline networks. Notably, the 4G network that Verizon also is building on the recently auctioned 700 megahertz spectrum is already subject to open Internet rules. This nascent marketplace for wireless broadband should be allowed to develop further before applying a new set of rules. That said, we believe that wireless providers should be fully transparent about their practices, and Congress should regularly evaluate the state of the wireless market to protect consumers’ interests.

Since the April court ruling that questioned the FCC’s right to penalize Comcast for slowing Internet traffic, the FCC’s authority over broadband service providers has been unclear. Our policy proposal spells out clear FCC authority for enforcement against bad actors. We propose a case-by-case adjudication model for determining harm to users or competition. The FCC should be authorized to stop bad practices, such as slowing Internet traffic or blocking legal applications or services, and to hit knowing violators with injunctions and substantial fines. At the same time — consistent with the Internet’s long history of self-governance — our framework would encourage parties in dispute to first consider using a nongovernmental resolution process to resolve their differences.

We believe this public policy framework empowers an informed consumer, ensures the robust growth of the open Internet and provides incentives to strengthen the networks that carry Internet traffic.

There are hundreds of millions of Internet users in the United States, and no two companies should be so presumptuous as to think they can solve this challenge alone. It is up to policymakers to establish broadband policy for the country. We are eager to work with Congress, the FCC and other interested parties to get this right. We hope that our proposal provides some concrete ideas to move this process forward.

Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google and Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon. Google and Verizon Wireless have partnered on devices, including mobile phones, that use Google’s Android software platform.