Blog Post

Google NOT Turning Its Back on Network Neutrality

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 (s GOOG), 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 (s AKAM) 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 (s MSFT) and Yahoo (s YHOO) 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.

75 Responses to “Google NOT Turning Its Back on Network Neutrality”

    What you are saying is basically:
    This is a move along the lines of putting all Office application in one combined package, not actually making them better.
    In other words, business innovation instead of tech innovation. Who would have thought about that, let’s see how high Microsoft can jump.

  2. I think this is a two fold move.
    First a preventive move against maybe new ideas in search. The bar just got raised to, not only data centers but also to cache. As I said before fast and good enough beats precision in most cases.
    Second those nasty banner ads wait times for Google’s doubleclick will hopefully go down. I mean if it’s fast enough who cares, if it’s to slow and I don’t need it there are other ways. My guess is Google knows that and advertisers know it too. Which makes for a compelling reason specially in a recession.

    No special sort order and 1. might be a site effect of 2, which every chess player will truly appreciate.

  3. Om, I’m shocked you fell for this. The whole piece is designed to deliberately stir up antagonism against Google. Who stands to gain? Rupert Murdoch, Microsoft, Yahoo, and the incumbents. Where can they find a reliable mouthpiece to spout their goals? The WSJ, of course.

    Don’t take anything they say on face value in the Murdoch era, man. Not without copious substantiation and multiple references.

  4. I still think that google has every right to get what info the can about us…After all they’ve made our lives soo much easier!! Even though adsense compensates for this I still think they have every right to go ahead with it

  5. Mr. Obama needs to enforce Net Neutrality. Leave it to the consumers to pay for better bandwidth and delivery services. Do not make others suffer and create an unfair “big company” advantage in the market by allowing these companies to buy their way to the fast lane.


    OM, you were right the first time.

    The Akamai comparison is different because they let EVERYONE put their content on their servers. Akamai has no content of it’s own. Akamai has no motivation to prefer its content. On the other hand, Google has a huge incentive to make it’s services faster, and make it’s competitor’s slower.

    Google caches in ISPs could make Picassa twice as fast as Flickr. Orkut substantially faster than Facebook. Blogger faster than wordpress. Google is a competitor to the most popular services.

    – Will Google let Yahoo or MSFT put their content in Google’s cache servers?
    – Will they let me put my content there?

    Even if they do, would Google content be given a “preference”? i.e. would they let their content live longer in the cache?

    Will Google’s edge cache have APIs the rest of us don’t know about? (i.e. differential updates, on-the-cache processing for dynamic content, bigger size limits, smart expiry preferences, etc. for them vs. standard dumb caching for the rest of us?)

    Finally, there’s the basic dilemma that when I have to use Google’s cache to be as fast as Google, then google can effectively spy on any competitor’s traffic.

    This is simply too much power to give any company.

  7. Neno Brown

    If google done this but opened their network in clod fashion so others could be part of the HD party then good, if this is a closed source initiative then soory google this is wrong.

  8. Neno Brown

    This will just put every competitor out of the market, A case of throwing money at an increased advantage over other players, who have less money, not very open source….

  9. SutroStyle

    Anyone who operates a larger internet website already knows that you need to pay up to get your emails delivered to the inboxes in Yahoo, MSN/Hotmail and Gmail. You need to use “services” like ReturnPath, otherwise while your emails may get delivered, they will most likely end up in Junk folder.
    This will be no different- you will have to pay up to get your bits delivered reliably to the browser in ADDITION to what you ALREADY PAY for the bandwidth, and some companies may get denied this privilege.

    Our company bandwidth bill is already tens of thousands of dollars, and yet this is NOT enough? We are ALREADY paying for the bandwidth.

  10. The Microsoft anti-Google propaganda machine shifted into second gear about 2 weeks ago. Expect a continuous stream of “Google is now eeeeevil” stories.
    Hasn’t anyone noticed the content delivery problems YouTube is having. There are time during the day when the site is almost unusable.

  11. There is no other way to provide HD video streaming and unlimited peer-to-peer then to install cache systems and cache servers at the ISP level. We want HD video don’t we? We want cloud computing don’t we? We want unlimited peer-to-peer file sharing don’t we?

    I don’t mind Google host all websites on the Google App Engine system, as long as it is built in a way that perfectly scales dynamically, and as long as they charge very very reasonable fees for the service, that is a reasonable fee per GB transfered, per GB hosted and per CPU cycle. Why would anyone want to use any smaller host then one that is truely unlimited, fully scalable and that is built to be at the cheapest possible price?

    What Obama needs to do is to build a Fiber to the Home network worldwide, which means we get to use Fiberoptics for gigabit symmetrical connections in every homes. Obama needs to make Cloud Computing a standard, so that if Microsoft or Yahoo want to add servers to power the cloud, then all of it needs to work on the same interoperable standard. Make a standard for it.

    Obama needs to make a standard for online video, make it work on $100 VOD set-top-boxes, a standard for that. So we can all watch HD video streaming from the Internet to HDTVs. Obama needs to implement a standard for the open mesh, data about ourselves needs to be standardized. Obama needs to activate open and free 700mhz wireless broadband, not only on white spaces, basically turn off DVB-T and use all of the 700mhz spectrum for free unlicenced wireless Internet.

  12. michael side

    There is clearly some shifting sands happening here — there are likely some parts of the story that WSJ got wrong, but why should we be surprised that Google is concerned about distribution of their service? Milli-seconds do matter to users and their reaches a point where some of these millii-seconds to load a search page can no longer be improved or protected by Google’s investment in data-centers (hardware) or code (software) and then need to start thinking about how do they get better control of the pipes. If you owned a factory generating $20B/revenues/yr. wouldn’t you invest heavily to secure fast distribution of your products to market — that is all what Google is doing here. The exact details of what they are trying to do may be fuzzy, but are we to truly believe that they are not trying to secure faster access for their content — how naive are we?

  13. Again the WSJ gets the wrong story. They were wrong on the Yahoo and Jon Miller story and now wrong on this. Is it me or these guys have no idea on what is happening on the Internet?

  14. If nothing else, Google is showing how plugged in it is by having a blog post up less than an hour after the WSJ piece appeared… be interesting to see how the WSJ reporters respond to Whitt’s claims that their story was “confused.”

  15. I’ve been worried about Google for YEARS!! They gave us free sh**, so we turned a blind eye toward their anti-competitive practices. How naive. They pose a larger threat than MS ever did. The Walmart of cyberspace.

  16. When I was 13 I wanted to work for Microsoft. At 17 I wanted to wok for Google. I was a fanboy who tried most of the Google services and reccomended them to friends. I put off my friends’ invites for Yahoo and MSN services. Im 19 now and the past 2 years changed my outlook of Google. It is now a virtual monopoly in terms of search, online ads and videos (youtube). And it continues to eat up the territory held by Microsoft and Yahoo.

    Google used to have a spotless reputation for ethics. While I still think it’s a great company, it needs to come clean on this issue or the “don’t be evil” motto would sound hollow. If the agreement goes against net neutrality, It must be stopped. Any attacks on net neutrality sound (to me) like immature guys begging for a quick-fix solution for problems they are responsible for.

  17. vijay gill

    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.

  18. @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.

  19. Nicholas Young

    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.

  20. 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.

  21. “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).

  22. “…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.

  23. 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.