Reporting from Washington —
Federal regulators are giving up efforts to negotiate a compromise between Web companies and Internet service providers over so-called net neutrality rules intended to prevent discrimination in the way online traffic is treated.
The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it would no longer try brokering a deal among various phone, cable TV and Internet companies, saying that weeks of talks had not "generated a robust framework to preserve openness and freedom of the Internet."
The FCC had been engaged in closed-door meetings with companies such as Google Inc., Skype, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to work out a compromise.
But on Wednesday, rumors surfaced that Google and Verizon were close to hammering out their own separate deal on how to manage Web content.
Reports about the deal said Verizon agreed not to slow or block the delivery of content on the Web — such as movie files, which soak up lots of bandwidth — but it could favor certain types of Web content on wireless devices. Web companies, such as Google, could pay Verizon for faster delivery of their content, news reports said.
The FCC warned against such a deal Thursday.
"Any outcome, any deal that doesn't preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet for consumers and entrepreneurs will be unacceptable," Chairman Julius Genachowski said at a news conference after an FCC meeting Thursday.
Google and Verizon have denied the rumors.
"We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic," said a Google representative. "We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet."
Verizon, which also disputed the news reports, thanked the agency for its efforts.
"The FCC talks made good progress toward consensus on a number of points," said Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president. He said Verizon "will continue to work with the FCC, Congress and all interested parties" to ensure that the Internet remains open.
AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi said AT&T was "disappointed that the net neutrality talks convened by the FCC have broken down." He added, "We put a number of significant concessions on the table and, despite today's setback, remain convinced that a consensus solution can be achieved."
A group that represents Web companies, the Open Internet Coalition, expressed skepticism about whether legislation enforcing net neutrality would come to fruition now that the FCC has abandoned the talks. The group, which counts Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook as members, had participated in the FCC meetings.
The FCC is considering reclassifying broadband Internet, which would make it subject to some of the same nondiscrimination rules as telephone companies.
This would give the agency increased authority over Internet service providers and how they manage the delivery of Web content traveling across its networks.
Phone and cable companies, including Verizon and AT&T, are vehemently against reclassification because it increases regulation over their networks. On the other hand, Web companies such as Google, Amazon and Skype have been proponents of net neutrality rules, where all Web content is treated equally by broadband service providers.
The FCC had hoped to broker a compromise between Internet service providers and Web companies by holding closed-door meetings between the two sides. This drew criticism from public interest groups Public Knowledge and Free Press, which expressed concern that the only participants in the meetings were industry players and not consumer groups.
Those same groups supported the FCC's decision to call off the meetings.
"Today, Julius Genachowski and the FCC took a big step back from the brink and gave everyone who cares about the free and open Internet reason to be hopeful that they still might do the right thing," said Free Press Research Director Derek Turner.