FCC Calls Off Closed-Door Net Neutrality Negotiations

The Federal Communications Commision (FCC) has called off closed-door negotiations on the topic of Net Neutrality, according to numerous reports. The announcement was made on the heels of reports that Google and Verizon had reached their own back-room deal on the subject, a deal that would (reportedly) preserve Net Neutrality on Verizon’s landline network, but has Google promising to not fight efforts by Verizon to set up a tiered-priority system for traffic on its wireless networks.

“We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions,” Eddie Lazarus, chief of staff to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, said in a statement. “It has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet – one that drives innovation, investment, free speech, and consumer choice. All options remain on the table as we continue to seek broad input on this vital issue.”

Mr. Genachowski has been championing Net Neutrality — the policy that all Internet traffic receive the same level of service from all parties involved in transmitting that traffic — since he ascended to the head of the FCC. The meetings being held with Google, Verizon, Skype, and AT&T were intended to bring those companies in line with the FCC’s vision for Internet traffic policy.

Internet service providers have long wanted to set up tiered systems that would force (or allow) large companies to pay for higher priority for their content to be delivered to the so-called “last mile” of infrastructure to the customer. Net Neutrality proponents have also argued that such a system could allow those same providers to lock out competitors, say Skype’s VOiP services or competitors offering streaming TV or movie services.

As detailed in a gigaom.com rant on the subject, the FCC’s hands were somewhat tied on the issue by a series of events starting in 2009 that resulted in Congress asserting and the U.S. Federal Courts ruling that the FCC had no authority to regulate Internet traffic. That, in turn, led to the meetings the FCC was holding with the above-mentioned parties.

Google’s side deal with Verizon, however, apparently put the kibosh on even that process.

For its part, AT&T told The Washington Post, “We are disappointed that the net neutrality talks convened by the FCC have broken down … we put a number of significant concessions on the table and, despite today’s setback, remain convinced that a consensus solution can be achieved.”