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House Democrats Slam Google-Verizon Net Neutrality Plan

Four House Democrats on Monday slammed the Google-Verizon net neutrality plan as too "industry-centered," and urged the Federal Communications Commission to move ahead with its "third way" to regulate broadband.

The members also insisted that any net neutrality plan should include the wireless industry.

"The recent proposal by Google and Verizon of an industry-centered net neutrality policy framework reinforces the need for resolution of the current open proceedings at the commission to ensure the maintenance of an open Internet," Reps. Edward Markey, Anna Eshoo, Mike Doyle, and Jay Inslee wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Last week, Google and Verizon introduced a proposal that would preserve the openness of the Internet on the Web, but would not extend net neutrality principles to the wireless industry. It would also exempt certain additional, non-Internet related services provided by broadband companies.

The proposal is not enforceable; in order for it to go into effect, it would have to be adopted by the FCC or a member of Congress. It does not appear that Markey, Eshoo, Doyle, or Inslee will be introducing the Google-Verizon plan as a bill anytime soon.

"No private interest should be permitted to carve up the Internet to suit its own purposes," Rep. Markey said in a statement.

Eshoo warned against "cable-izing the Internet."

Last year, Markey and Eshoo authored a net neutrality bill that would ban ISPs from blocking, interfering with, or discriminating against lawful applications and devices on the Internet. Those ISPs would also be banned from offering prioritized Internet access or requiring customers to sign up for service other than Internet access. The bill, known as the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, has not made it out of committee.

Rather than pursue the Google-Verizon plan, the FCC should move forward on its "third way" to regulate broadband, according to the letter. This option, which was proposed by Genachowski in early May, would narrowly reclassify the transmission of data as a telecommunications service that the agency could directly regulate, balanced by a hands-off approach to other aspects.

The proposal came after a court ruled this year that the FCC had no right to hand down a 2008 network management enforcement action against Comcast, throwing into question the FCC's authority to regulate broadband – and the future of its national broadband plan.

"Rather than expansion upon a proposal by two large communications companies with a vested financial interest in the outcome, formal FCC action is needed," the members wrote. "The public interest is served by a free and open Internet that continues to be an indispensable platform for innovation, investment, entrepreneurship, and free speech."

Markey, Eshoo, Doyle, and Inslee also laid out four principles they believe the FCC should follow in developing broadband regulation: the FCC should have oversight for broadband access services; paid prioritization would close the open Internet; wired and wireless should be included in any plan; and broad "managed services" exemptions would swallow open Internet rules.

Google last week defended its net neutrality proposal, and denied that it had sold out in order to improve its business standing.

"No other company is working as tirelessly for an open Internet," Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel for Google, said at the time.

The plan exempts wireless, Whitt said, because wireless is more competitive than wireline, and the spectrum crunch means that wireless carriers "need to manage their networks more actively."

Whitt also denied the move was intended to help its Android mobile OS.

"This is a policy proposal – not a business deal," Whitt wrote. "Google has a close business relationship with Verizon, but ultimately this proposal has nothing to do with Android."

AT& later championed the Google-Verizon wireless exemption, stating simply that "wireless is different."

Genachowski has not made a public statement about the Google-Verizon plan, but Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps was not enthused. The proposal "moves the discussion forward, [but] that's one of its many problems," Copps said. "It is time to move a decision forward - a decision to reassert the FCC authority over broadband telecommunications, to guarantee an open Internet now and forever, and to put the interests of consumers in front of the interests of giant corporations."

The FCC's next public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23, but an agenda has not yet been released, so no word on whether broadband regulation will be on the table.

Consumer group Free Press, which filed the original complaint against Comcast and organized a rally against the Google-Verizon plan at Google headquarters last week, applauded the House members' letter.

"With their letter, Reps. Markey, Inslee, Eshoo and Doyle have taken a courageous stand for the American public by voicing their concern with the dangers of allowing industry to write its own rules," Free Press political adviser Joel Kelsey said in a statement.

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