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Welcome to the website of the Internet and Intellectual Property Justice Clinic, a University of San Francisco School of Law clinical program that provides legal assistance to parties in intellectual property matters. For more information, see the "About Us" page.

Our website includes commentary from our students on cutting-edge internet law and intellectual property topics. Those posts are listed below, and more are archived under "Pages" on the right. Enjoy!

Google-Verizon's Net Neutrality Proposal

By Yeon Soo C.

   Two Internets could emerge:  the public” information highway” we know today, and a private one with faster lanes and expensive tolls.

   The principle of “network neutrality” requires companies providing internet service to treat all sources of data equally.  Network Neutrality also requires no restrictions by internet service providers or governments on content, sites, platforms, and the modes of communication.

   Currently, Internet users get access to any web site on an equal basis: Foreign and domestic sites, large corporation home pages and low traffic blogs all show up on a user’s screen in the same manner when their addresses are typed into a browser.

   But, now there is a passionate debate over whether companies providing internet service should be able to give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission, or, to their own content, in effect creating a two-tier Web.  This two-tier Web would have a fast lane and a slow lane, and the means to block or impede content containing controversial points of view.

   The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has kept things the way they presently are. However, the FCC’s ability to do so has been in doubt since a federal appeals decision in April 2010 restricted its authority over broadband service: The Comcast Corporation, the nations’ largest cable company, challenged the FCC’s authority to impose the “net neutrality” obligations on broadband providers. The FCC argued that such rules are needed to prevent phone and cable companies from using their control over Internet access to favor some online content and services over others. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, however, held that the FCC lacks the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks. 

   There is still another point of view on this issue. Recently, two leading players in internet service and content – Google and Verizon – came out with a joint proposal that took a different approach. In a joint policy statement Google and Verizon issued in August 2010, they proposed that regulators enforce the principle of net neutrality on wired connections but not on the wireless internet.

   Some large Internet and telecommunications companies – Google, Verizon, AT&T – as well as some startup companies showed positive reaction to this “Google and Verizon’s two-tier web” proposal.  The main reason for their support of the Google and Verizon’s two-tier proposal is that this proposal gives carriers the flexibility they need to be able to manage their networks. They argue that there should be an internet service that remains open and neutral, but that does not necessarily mean there shouldn’t also be premium options to appeal to some for a better consumer experience. Of course, it would also generate revenue for those companies who favor the two-tier approach.

   I fear, however, that there is the possibility of a negative impact from having a two-tier web in any form. Technology companies and consumer advocacy groups – Facebook, Amazon, Ebay – also strongly oppose the two-tier web proposal. If the proposal were to be adopted, the Internet would not be quite as open anymore. There is a great value in preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators – regardless of their size of wealth. The Internet we have today has promoted a vibrant and competitive marketplace where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections.