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Summary:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google, long a network neutrality champion, is looking to cut deals with broadband providers — both cable and phone companies — in a move to get faster access for its own content. Google, however, says it it not backing away from network neutrality, and that its OpenEdge effort is in fact a plan to peer its edge-caching devices directly with the network operators so that the users of those broadband carriers get faster access to Google and YouTube’s content.

Updated @ 9:30 pm: In response to an earlier story in The Wall Street Journal, Google offered a clarification and reaffirmed its stance on network neutrality and pointed out that it is not backing away from it. It has dismissed the WSJ story as confused. Instead, Google explained that the OpenEdge effort (the subject of the WSJ story) was a plan to peer its edge-caching devices directly with the network operators so that the users of those broadband carriers get faster access to Google and YouTube’s content.

“Google has offered to “colocate” caching servers within broadband providers’ own facilities; this reduces the provider’s bandwidth costs since the same video wouldn’t have to be transmitted multiple times,” Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington telecom and media counsel, wrote on the company’s policy blog.

He went on to say that all these colocation deals — done via projects like OpenEdge and Google Global Cache — are non-exclusive and “none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic. Despite the hyperbolic tone and confused claims in Monday’s Journal story, I want to be perfectly clear about one thing: Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open.”

The reason Google can do this is because the company has the resources and the network infrastructure to pull this off. That alone gives the company an advantage over others. Original report below the fold.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google, long a network neutrality champion, is looking to cut deals with broadband providers — both cable and phone companies — to get faster access for its own content. The Journal claims it has seen documents that show that Google has made these overtures. I have reached out to the company’s PR to get more information and will update my post accordingly.

According to the Journal, one cable operator who was approached by Google has been reluctant to do the deal because of legislative backlash. “If we did this, Washington would be on fire,” he told the Journal reporters. Nevertheless, by exploring this option, Google is going against its long-held belief in network neutrality where all data packets are treated as equal by network operators.

The WSJ story doesn’t quite outline how this system is supposed to work, but my best guess is that Google would essentially put a majority of its content and services closer to the service provider’s infrastructure. It is not clear how is this different from the kind of deals Akamai has for its CDN network. Of course, Google could go for preferential arrangements that mimic the deals it has cut in the wireless arena with T-Mobile, which makes it easy to access Google services on its mobile phones.In return, wireless carriers get a piece of the Google’s ad revenue.

While it might seem like a smart move in the short term — it can put Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook at a disadvantage — in the long run, this move will be like swinging the tiger by the tail. The carriers will start with a fraction of the revenues, but over a period of time they can increase their cut, and Google would have no way to put the genie back in the bottle.

Google is not alone — other, older Internet companies are turning their back on network neutrality. The Journal says both Microsoft and Yahoo have also started to back away from a coalition that was formed to protect network neutrality two years ago.

“Network neutrality is a policy avenue the company is no longer pursuing,” Microsoft said in a statement. The Redmond, Wash., software giant now favors legislation to allow network operators to offer different tiers of service to content companies.

Even the so-called Internet liberals have started to back away from the concept of network neutrality, the Journal says.

“There are good reasons to be able to prioritize traffic,” Mr. Lessig said later in an interview. “If everyone had to pay the same rates for postal service, than you wouldn’t be able to differentiate between sending a greeting card to your grandma versus sending an overnight letter to your lawyer.”

Of course, Larry Lessig (a adviser to President-elect Obama), an academic who roared and helped champion such powerful new ideas such as Creative Commons, forgets that we live in a world where access for broadband is provided by a duopoly that has thoroughly corrupted the FCC and legislative system. Who is going to monitor them the way  the U.S. Postal Service is monitored? Where is the competitive landscape akin to one that allows DHL, FedEx and UPS to compete with the USPS. (Lessig rejects WSJ’s claims on his blog.)

Forget Lessig for a minute. Google’s attempts to get its packets ahead of others by paying the carriers is going to be a body blow to the network neutrality movement.  Or as they say, Et tu, Larry & Sergey?

Given how close President-elect Obama is to the current Google management, I can only fear the worst. Many startups might skip over this issue, which I constantly bring up, but they need to wake up and realize that in the end they are all going to be impacted if network neutrality is backstabbed to death. If Google can buy better performance for its service, your web app might be at a disadvantage. If the cost of doing business means paying baksheesh to the carriers, then it is the end of innovation as we know it.

A part of me doesn’t want to believe this report — I mean it goes against everything Google stands for. If true — and I have no reason to doubt a fine publication like the Wall Street Journal — it proves for once and for all that Google’s talk about ‘do no evil’ is nothing more than hot air, a fancy phrase designed to get more publicity than anything else. Google, at the very core, is no different than any other monopoly before it.

  1. I am deeply concerned about this. If this is in fact the case, I will be on the move from Gmail and Google reader, and slowly getting Google out of my life, especially ever thinking about purchasing an Android-enabled Phone in the future. Much how I am solely Microsoft-free at home on my laptop and desktop.

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  2. “…I mean it goes against everything Google stands for…”

    Hardly. Google already has a fast lane to most of the Internet thanks to its private server farm being wired directly to most of the public exchange points. This plan would simply put Google on an equal footing with Akamai, who already has a footprint inside major ISP networks.

    The only surprise here is that the Journal’s reporters failed to realize exactly how normal deals like this already are, and how phony the network neutrality movement’s rhetoric has always been.

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  3. “Google’s proposed arrangement with network providers, internally called OpenEdge, would place Google servers directly within the network of the service providers, according to documents reviewed by the Journal. The setup would accelerate Google’s service for users. Google has asked the providers it has approached not to talk about the idea, according to people familiar with the plans.”

    Google isn’t changing net neutrality. They want to do what Akamai does (and they do to an extend already).

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  4. I would hate to believe this is true as well. I think this is a case of if the system is used against you, you call foul, but if you can use it to your advantage, then you will. I honestly don’t see why they need to do this as it is by no means a slow or painful experience to check my gmail, google reader or even youtube.

    I think Google is starting to get away from the don’t be evil idea in hopes of doing something that will get their stock back up to the $700 level again. The problem with that idea is that if your turn your back on the consumer, your stock price will never see its full potential.

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  5. Nicholas Young Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Maybe it goes against everything that Google *did* stand for at one time, but it’s looking like
    they could be changing their tune. I also think that Lessig could have been taken out of context. Perhaps he’s applying the whole “prioritizing traffic” idea to say, different bandwidth tiers for hosting providers? In that case, I’d understand.

    Don’t get me wrong, as the owner of an Internet company, I’m tottally against this. If always championed NN. It’s the only way to ensure innovation continues. You’re right on top I this one Om. Thanks.

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  6. Heather Kennedy Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Google + govt = the new ‘big oil’ in the White House? Influence is influence and I’m right with you on the way you’re calling this one.

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  7. @Richard Bennett,

    Excellent point. Now that is okay because they were using their own infrastructure to their advantage. Now they are using money power.

    That said, I think you are spot on — how phony the concept of network neutrality is especially if you take into account the whole issue of “peering” and how that alone can help the cause of a web entity.

    PS: I just updated the post to point out that it could be a deal similar to Akamai or it could be a deal like the one it has with T-Mobile. Certainly need to hear back from Google to get some clarifications.

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  8. Peering is a a business decision, not a right. If one party has a greater need for a peering connection than another one, then that need is best expressed in commercial terms like contracts and a settlement to equalize the value for both parties.

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  9. This is very disappointing. Hope people will believe more in the cause than in the people they thought would champion it.

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  10. what happens to packets from App engine ? http://www.appspot.com . App engine already has the advantage in email where in emails from App Engine seemingly are considered less of a spam then say Aamazon Webservices

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