Why a Google-Verizon Deal's Believable.

Google is now saying that despite what you might have read in The New York Times, it hasn't reached an agreement with Verizon on how the corporate giants will determine the future of the Internet.

The Kremlin was, I suspect, easier to read than the telecom policy world. But whatever the truth is here, it remains a useful episode. The rumor floating around is that Internet giant Google and network giant Verizon have been cobbling out a side agreement -- outside the bounds of the ongoing FCC negotiations on network neutrality taking place right at the moment -- that would have kept neutrality principles alive on the wired Internet while opening up the troubling possibility that some content -- say, just for an example, Google's YouTube's videos -- would be faster and more accessible on the huge and growing mobile Internet that includes iPhones, celll phones, and 3G iPads.

The subtext for the Google-Verizon agreement report (and, frankly, given how these things work, the rumor could either be completely true, completely false, or some of both) is that there's a presumption that the FCC's negotiations are going to fail. And beyond that, that this Federal Communications Commission is a failure. It started with enormously high hopes. Chair Julius Genachowski was the Obama campaign's own tech sherpa. However, the criticism is that as chair, he has been extraordinarily unwilling to upset anyone. One neutrality advocate described it to me this morning as "the logical outcome of an FCC that simply refuses to do its job." If Google and Verizon are working out deals in the hallways, it's because there's very little faith in telecom circles that the FCC has the chops to negotiate out an agreement that's sure to upset some people, and some people with proven abilities to spend great deals of money making the lives of their political opponents miserable.

Rumor or not, a supposed Google-Verizon alliance might still have utility for advocates. The Federal Communications Commission has the potential to represent the public interest in shaping the future of the Internet. The idea that corporate interests have so little fear of it that they're making side deals might be enough to provoke them into what, at this point, would seem to be an uncharacteristically decisive response.

--Nancy Scola

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