Google, Verizon Deal Could Sidestep Net Neutrality [Updated]

Google and Verizon are apparently working on a deal that could lead to companies paying for faster delivery of their Web content to end users, according to the New York Times. The deal would create a tiered data serving system that sounds very similar to the type of Internet content delivery structure the Federal Communications Commission is hoping to avoid.

Assuming the two companies reach an agreement, the deal would impact data transmitted over Verizon’s wireless network, but the tiered delivery system could eventually extend to other wireless data service providers, too.

Anonymous sources familiar with the negotiations said that as part of the deal Google wouldn’t take actions to challenge how Verizon manages content delivery on its wireless network. A deal between the two companies could be announced as early as next week.

If Google and Verizon strike a tiered content delivery deal, that could throw a wrench in the FCC’s efforts to ensure all Internet data is handled equally. The agency is currently conducting meetings with several communications-related companies such as AT&T, Skype, Google and Verizon, along with cable system operators and the Open Internet Coalition.

Gigi B. Sohn, president and a founder of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, commented “The point of a network neutrality rule is to prevent big companies from dividing the Internet between them.”

For it’s part, Verizon claims it is still negotiating with the FCC. “We’ve been working with Google for 10 months to reach an agreement on broadband policy,” said Verizon spokesperson David M. Fish. “We are currently engaged in and committed to the negotiation process led by the FCC We are optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet, and the investment and innovation required to sustain it.”

While Verizon was backing up the report that it has been involved in the side negotiations, however, Google openly denied them. “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet,” the company said through its Google Public Policy Twitter account.

With both sides offering different statements on the alleged negotiations, that could be an indicator that the talks aren’t going as planned — or that one side got cold feet. For now, it looks like whatever Google and Verizon were, or weren’t, discussing behind closed doors will stay there.

[Updated with Google’s response]