Earlier today, The Wall Street Journal published a story outlining Google’s OpenEdge efforts in which it portrayed the initiative as a sign the company is moving away from the network neutrality cause. The idea of equal access and equal treatment of all packets has been a […]

Earlier today, The Wall Street Journal published a story outlining Google’s OpenEdge efforts in which it portrayed the initiative as a sign the company is moving away from the network neutrality cause. The idea of equal access and equal treatment of all packets has been a network ideal for a long time and Google has been among its staunchest defenders, which is why I was left incredulous by the report. The story was quickly debunked by Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington-based telecom and media counsel, who labeled it as “confused.”

David Isenberg explains in excruciating detail the differences between Google’s OpenEdge edge-caching efforts and what network neutrality means to its advocates. “The concern of Network Neutrality advocates is not with access but with delivery…Since the edge caching Google is proposing is about access, not delivery, there’s no problem,” writes Isenberg, who is a well-regarded telecom and broadband thinker.

But when it comes to access, the argument is different. By spending an ungodly amount of money on its infrastructure, Google has been able to build a massive advantage over its rivals. This edge-caching network can only serve to increase that advantage.

Here’s how: By getting carriers to connect directly to via OpenEdge, consumers are able to better experience Google’s products, such as YouTube, because videos have to traverse fewer networks. As Google correctly notes, these are non-exclusive deals with carriers; anyone can sign up for them, and the likes of Akamai and Limelight, for example, already have similar deals in place. In other words, Microsoft and Yahoo can build their own private caching network if they want to, too.

No money has to change hands in these interconnection deals, which are already commonplace in telecom. But while traditionally they’ve been made between carrier operators, with Google’s OpenEdge, the search giant would be able to shunt traffic to broadband owners’ networks without paying money to intermediaries. There is nothing illegal about this.

Startups can get similar kinds of service by buying bandwidth from companies such as Level 3 and CDN operators such as Akamai.  In other words, their cost of doing business will be much higher than Google’s. As I noted in my post from last December, Google’s infrastructure is its strategic advantage, and this new aspect of the business only helps them lower their costs and hence their profitability.

“Network neutrality is a myth, and it always has been,” Richard Bennett, a fellow broadband enthusiast, writes on his blog, which I think sums the situation up nicely. In response to the post I put up soon after the WSJ’s story was first published, Bennett also left this comment: “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.” He goes on to add, “Google has to do something like this to avoid being clobbered by ISP-friendly P4P as well as by Akamai.”

Google has other reasons to roll out this edge caching service. Akamai and other CDN operators are working on technologies that would allow them to insert and better target advertisements from their edge devices. Even Cisco Systems wants to get into the game; it’s been working on a new edge router that allows it to insert advertising for its customers, such as cable companies.

If these technologies catch on, then Google’s core advertising franchise could come unglued. No wonder the company is ready to cut deals and grow its presence on the edge of the network.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Todd Spraggins Monday, December 15, 2008

    It is all about perspective. I could care less if Google is able to put cache in the core because my problem is at the access edge where I have only one provider to get on the internet. And I am sure there are start-ups that think that this is the largest problem in the world and needs immediate regulatory action. But in the end, as long as there is not preferential treatment, then I think this fits well with Lessig’s MFN litmus test and within the bound of adhering to NN principles.

    I have to ask if anyyone would have even noticed if Google had just used Akamai in the first place. Why are people not upset that the CDNs do this anyways. I do not understand how a commercial model that never appeared on the NN radar is now so evil.

    IMHO, having Google get more involved with the core is better. Go read Cisco’s VNI where they have the scariest datapoint of all – the Internet is going private http://tinyurl.com/5tgjus (more than 50% of all IP traffic will be carried on private networks next year). Let’s figure out how to get packets to users without being poked, prodded, mangled, reset, deleted, metered and ad inflated in coach before having the debate over whether or not it is socially acceptable policy for one to pay for a first class ticket.

  2. Mark this date.. this is the day history ll refer back to as start of Google’s decline as tech giant… this is 2nd mistake after getting buggy chrome out of beta.

  3. Bernie Arnason Monday, December 15, 2008

    Isn’t this all just semantics. The end goal is to get better/faster access to Google content. Do the technical details of how they achieve that end really matter? Looks to me as if Google’s trying to have it both ways.

  4. Can someone please explain where Akamai has an ad network, content and aggregation ? Apples and Oranges, both fruit but quite different in detail.
    Or, _NO_ om it doesn’t matter the train as left the building, if someone wants to compete they have to change the game.
    What does internet traffic mean, there where always large private networks which never belonged to the network of networks. IP traffic is not equal internet traffic.

  5. As I said before…

    Google is big enough to replicate what Akamai does. This is basically what it is.

    Why is this different from any CDN?

    What would be great is if google could offer this as a service just like how Amazon is doing with CloudFront.

  6. OKAY, I get it.. I think Edge Caching is a smart solution.. but then it should not be GOOG only caching. What is appropriate is that GOOG can “donate” servers to ISP for caching and they cache whatever is more popular in the region.. If GOOG thinks that their content is “most” requested ala Youtube then the servers ll automatically cache it more. Simple?

  7. @ronald,

    akamai has started experimenting with this ad-injection technology and the content will come from their media partners. all the details are in the link to akamai story. hope that helps.

  8. @COP

    Unfortunately donating servers is not part of Google’s plan. Neither it should be.

  9. @OM
    No technical details on how they do it. My first stab on that would be, track ips to company A page PA, next another company B page PB same ip (reasonable time frame), now if ip visits c I replace a generic link on page PC with something specific. The user behind ip might be interested in since they went to PA and PB.
    Not exactly manipulating or inserting traffic, just bare bone pattern analysis.
    Correct me if the tech works differently, I’m just guessing.
    How many CDN servers can any ISP handle, is the unlimited space available?

  10. It first dawned on me that net neutrality really is a myth at a conference Cynthia Brumfield hosted on IP video policy earlier this year. People pay for faster delivery of their content every day.

    Amazingly, a former FCC economist at the conference suggested quite blithely that content owners would soon be in the pipe business (i.e. broadband networks). He was right, of course, but his nonchalant attitude shocked me. This is a serious issue, and one that really needs to be discussed. Especially since many people don’t understand how the system works today and how it’s going to work in the very near future. The Internet was a great democratizing force, but, like with anything else, power is now consolidating. Clearly we have to figure out new anti-trust rules for the Internet age.

Comments have been disabled for this post