Friday, August 27, 2010

An update on our ITA Software acquisition



Last month we announced our plans to acquire ITA Software. Today, after meeting with many companies in the industry, we're even more excited about building new tools that will make it easier for consumers to search for flights, compare flight options, and get you quickly to a site where you can buy a ticket.

We’ve been encouraged by the travel industry support we’ve seen for this acquisition -- from airlines to online travel agencies. Even longtime travel guru Arthur Frommer said that "the existence of so many competing airfare search engines convinces me that the field will remain competitive even after Google enters it.”

While we think this acquisition will benefit travelers as well as those seeking their business, we know that closer scrutiny has been one consequence of Google's success, and we said that we wouldn’t be surprised if there were a regulatory review before the deal closes. This week we received what's called a "second request," which means that the U.S. Department of Justice is asking for more information so that they can continue to review the deal.

While this means we won't be closing the deal right away, we're confident that the DOJ will conclude that online travel will remain competitive after this acquisition closes. In fact, over the past few weeks online travel companies have noted that they have alternatives to ITA’s product: Kayak's CEO called Expedia’s Best Fare Search alternative "awesome"; Orbitz said that "Worldspan's e-Pricing search technology is a good solution that Travelport is devoting resources to develop. So we have alternatives available to us”; and Continental Airlines noted that "there are alternatives to the [ITA] shopping solution in the marketplace, both internally and externally.”

While we of course hope to continue working with ITA’s current customers, these comments demonstrate that competition will remain alive and well. We’ll be working cooperatively with the Department of Justice as they continue their review.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Facts about our network neutrality policy proposal



Over the past few days there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding our announcement of a policy proposal on network neutrality we put together with Verizon. On balance, we believe this proposal represents real progress on what has become a very contentious issue, and we think it could help move the network neutrality debate forward constructively.

We don’t expect everyone to agree with every aspect of our proposal, but there has been a number of inaccuracies about it, and we do want to separate fact from fiction.

MYTH: Google has “sold out” on network neutrality.

FACT: Google has been the leading corporate voice on the issue of network neutrality over the past five years. No other company is working as tirelessly for an open Internet.

But given political realities, this particular issue has been intractable in Washington for several years now. At this time there are no enforceable protections – at the Federal Communications Commission or anywhere else – against even the worst forms of carrier discrimination against Internet traffic.

With that in mind, we decided to partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together. We’re not saying this solution is perfect, but we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all.

MYTH: This proposal represents a step backwards for the open Internet.

FACT: If adopted, this proposal would for the first time give the FCC the ability to preserve the open Internet through enforceable rules on broadband providers. At the same time, the FCC would be prohibited from imposing regulations on the Internet itself.

Here are some of the tangible benefits in our joint legislative proposal:
  • Newly enforceable FCC standards
  • Prohibitions against blocking or degrading wireline Internet traffic
  • Prohibition against discriminating against wireline Internet traffic in ways that harm users or competition
  • Presumption against all forms of prioritizing wireline Internet traffic
  • Full transparency across wireline and wireless broadband platforms
  • Clear FCC authority to adjudicate user complaints, and impose injunctions and fines against bad actors
Verizon has agreed to voluntarily abide by these same requirements going forward – another first for a major communications provider. We hope this action will convince other broadband companies to follow suit.

MYTH: This proposal would eliminate network neutrality over wireless.

FACT: It’s true that Google previously has advocated for certain openness safeguards to be applied in a similar fashion to what would be applied to wireline services. However, in the spirit of compromise, we have agreed to a proposal that allows this market to remain free from regulation for now, while Congress keeps a watchful eye.

Why? First, the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from. Second, because wireless networks employ airwaves, rather than wires, and share constrained capacity among many users, these carriers need to manage their networks more actively. Third, network and device openness is now beginning to take off as a significant business model in this space.

In our proposal, we agreed that the best first step is for wireless providers to be fully transparent with users about how network traffic is managed to avoid congestion, or prioritized for certain applications and content. Our proposal also asks the Federal government to monitor and report regularly on the state of the wireless broadband market. Importantly, Congress would always have the ability to step in and impose new safeguards on wireless broadband providers to protect consumers’ interests.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the future of wireless broadband increasingly will be found in the advanced, 4th generation (4G) networks now being constructed. Verizon will begin rolling out its 4G network this fall under openness license conditions that Google helped persuade the FCC to adopt. Clearwire is already providing 4G service in some markets, operating under a unique wholesale/openness business model. So consumers across the country are beginning to experience open Internet wireless platforms, which we hope will be enhanced and encouraged by our transparency proposal.

MYTH: This proposal will allow broadband providers to “cannibalize” the public Internet.

FACT: Another aspect of the joint proposal would allow broadband providers to offer certain specialized services to customers, services which are not part of the Internet. So, for example, broadband providers could offer a special gaming channel, or a more secure banking service, or a home health monitoring capability – so long as such offerings are separate and apart from the public Internet. Some broadband providers already offer these types of services today. The chief challenge is to let consumers benefit from these non-Internet services, without allowing them to impede on the Internet itself.

We have a number of key protections in the proposal to protect the public Internet:
  • First, the broadband provider must fully comply with the consumer protection and nondiscrimination standards governing its Internet access service before it could pursue any of these other online service opportunities.
  • Second, these services must be “distinguishable in purpose and scope” from Internet access, so that they cannot over time supplant the best effort Internet.
  • Third, the FCC retains its full capacity to monitor these various service offerings, and to intervene where necessary to ensure that robust, unfettered broadband capacity is allocated to Internet access.
So we believe there would be more than adequate tools in place to help guard against the “cannibalization” of the public Internet.

MYTH: Google is working with Verizon on this because of Android.

FACT: This is a policy proposal – not a business deal. Of course, Google has a close business relationship with Verizon, but ultimately this proposal has nothing to do with Android. Folks certainly should not be surprised by the announcement of this proposal, given our prior public policy work with Verizon on network neutrality, going back to our October 2009 blog post, our January 2010 joint FCC filing, and our April 2010 op-ed.

MYTH: Two corporations are legislating the future of the Internet.

FACT: Our two companies are proposing a legislative framework to the Congress for its consideration. We hope all stakeholders will weigh in and help shape the framework to move us all forward. We’re not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could – or should – decide the future of this issue. We’re simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years.

It’s up to Congress, the FCC, other policymakers – and the American public – to take it from here. Whether you favor our proposal or not, we urge you to take your views directly to your Senators and Representatives in Washington.

We hope this helps address some of the inaccuracies that have appeared about our proposal. We’ll provide updates as the situation continues to develop.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Google and Verizon op-ed: a path to an open Internet



Eric Schmidt and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg have an op-ed in today’s Washington Post that further explains our joint policy proposal for an open Internet. They describe our policy proposal in detail and explain how our conversations were “guided by two principles: our commitment to an open Internet, and the need for continued investment in broadband infrastructure.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

A joint policy proposal for an open Internet



The original architects of the Internet got the big things right. By making the network open, they enabled the greatest exchange of ideas in history. By making the Internet scalable, they enabled explosive innovation in the infrastructure.

It is imperative that we find ways to protect the future openness of the Internet and encourage the rapid deployment of broadband. Verizon and Google are pleased to discuss the principled compromise our companies have developed over the last year concerning the thorny issue of “network neutrality.”

In October, our two companies issued a shared statement of principles on network neutrality. A few months later we submitted a joint filing to the FCC, and in an April joint op-ed our CEOs discussed their common interest in an open Internet. Since that time, we have listened to all sides of the debate, engaged in good faith with policy makers in multiple venues, and challenged each other to craft a balanced policy framework. We have been guided by the two main goals:

     1. Users should choose what content, applications, or devices they use, since openness has been central to the explosive innovation that has made the Internet a transformative medium.

     2. America must continue to encourage both investment and innovation to support the underlying broadband infrastructure; it is imperative for our global competitiveness.

Today our CEOs will announce a proposal that we hope will make a constructive contribution to the dialogue. Our joint proposal takes the form of a suggested legislative framework for consideration by lawmakers, and is laid out here. Below we discuss the seven key elements:

First, both companies have long been proponents of the FCC’s current wireline broadband openness principles, which ensure that consumers have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose. The enforceability of those principles was called into serious question by the recent Comcast court decision. Our proposal would now make those principles fully enforceable at the FCC.

Second, we agree that in addition to these existing principles there should be a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices. This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition.

Importantly, this new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic - including paid prioritization. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic.

Third, it’s important that the consumer be fully informed about their Internet experiences. Our proposal would create enforceable transparency rules, for both wireline and wireless services. Broadband providers would be required to give consumers clear, understandable information about the services they offer and their capabilities. Broadband providers would also provide to application and content providers information about network management practices and any other information they need to ensure that they can reach consumers.

Fourth, because of the confusion about the FCC’s authority following the Comcast court decision, our proposal spells out the FCC’s role and authority in the broadband space. In addition to creating enforceable consumer protection and nondiscrimination standards that go beyond the FCC’s preexisting consumer safeguards, the proposal also provides for a new enforcement mechanism for the FCC to use. Specifically, the FCC would enforce these openness policies on a case-by-case basis, using a complaint-driven process. The FCC could move swiftly to stop a practice that violates these safeguards, and it could impose a penalty of up to $2 million on bad actors.

Fifth, we want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV) offered today. This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services. It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options. Our proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules. The FCC would also monitor the development of these services to make sure they don’t interfere with the continued development of Internet access services.

Sixth, we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

Seventh, and finally, we strongly believe that it is in the national interest for all Americans to have broadband access to the Internet. Therefore, we support reform of the Federal Universal Service Fund, so that it is focused on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available.

We believe this policy framework properly empowers consumers and gives the FCC a role carefully tailored for the new world of broadband, while also allowing broadband providers the flexibility to manage their networks and provide new types of online services.

Ultimately, we think this proposal provides the certainty that allows both web startups to bring their novel ideas to users, and broadband providers to invest in their networks.

Crafting a compromise proposal has not been an easy process, and we have certainly had our differences along the way. But what has kept us moving forward is our mutual interest in a healthy and growing Internet that can continue to be a laboratory for innovation. As policy makers continue to formulate the rules of the road, we hope that other stakeholders will join with us in providing constructive ideas for an open Internet policy that puts consumers in charge and enhances America’s leadership in the broadband world. We stand ready to work with the Congress, the FCC and all interested parties to do just that.