If Google and Verizon really are conspiring to kill Net neutrality, as several reports suggest, both companies would bruise their reputations in the process.
Word of a deal or near-complete negotiations between Google and Verizon appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico and Bloomberg, each publication citing anonymous sources. The stories all present slightly different versions of the facts, but they generally agree that Net neutrality -- the idea that all Internet traffic is treated equally -- would erode.
The New York Times' version is the most terrifying, claiming that Internet companies, such as Google, would be able to pay a fee to Verizon for faster delivery speeds on services like YouTube. If Verizon extended these kinds of deals to other companies, consumers could choose to pay more for these faster services in a premium package, says the Times.
All the reports note that the agreement wouldn't apply to mobile phones, meaning Verizon would be able to manage traffic as it pleases, with no intervention from Google.
A deal like this would put Google's reputation on the line. In the past, the company has defended the idea of an equal-access Internet, and in 2006 Google chief executive Eric Schmidt slammed "phone and cable monopolies" who "want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest."
Comments like those give the impression that Google's commercial interests were secondary to preserving a level playing field for all Internet companies. The supposed deal between Google and Verizon would jeopardize that impression if it allowed Google to pay extra for faster delivery.
Verizon, meanwhile, would start to look like the bad guy of mobile broadband. AT&T's troubles with the iPhone have given Verizon a favorable impression among consumers, but that could be squandered if it looks like Verizon is squashing innovation by giving preferential treatment to specific services. (This, of course, assumes that other carriers won't do the same thing, and that's a big assumption.)
There's enough discrepancy in the reports -- the Washington Post, for instance, says no prioritization would be allowed on fiber networks -- to hope that the Google-Verizon deal isn't as bad as it sounds. It better not be, if both companies want to stay in consumers' good graces.