'Net Neutrality,' Google, and the Wall Street Journal

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on December 15, 2008

One of the reasons the debate over network neutrality is so confusing is that the term itself is so slippery. It has an engineering meaning to engineers and an ideological meaning to ideologues while to businesses, it seems to mean—not surprisingly—whatever best serves their interests.

The extent of the confusion became clear today with a story in the Wall Street Journal saying that Google, a leader of the net neutrality charge, “has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content.” What Google hopes to do, as explained in a blog post by the company’s Washington telecom counsel, Richard Whitt, is to speed the delivery of its content by “co-locating” servers within the networks of Internet service providers, such as Verizon or Comcast, a privilege for which it would, of course, have to pay. “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,” he writes.

Does this violate the principles of net neutrality? It depends on whom you ask. According to some purists, any scheme, other than simply buying more bandwidth, that allows some people to pay for faster delivery of their content is wrong. But Stanford Law Professor Lawrenece Lessig, the intellectual guru of the net neutrality movement, accuses the Journal in a blog post of his own of promoting a made-up drama. Lessig says he has always maintained that paying more for better service is perfectly acceptable provided that the improved service is available in a non-discriminatory way to anyone willing to pay.

My two cents: I think net neutrality advocates have to some extent been drawn into what is mainly a fight between two groups of major corporate interests--content owners and carriers--who are jockeying for position in a high-stakes regulatory battle. "Don't be evil" Google loves to position itself as the defender of truth, justice, and the American way, but when real money is at stake, it can be counted upon to act, as it should, in its corporate interest.

As a broader point, this controversy shows how difficult it will be for the new Congress and new Administration to translate their greater sympathy for the idea of network neutrality into policy. If we cannot agree on just what the principle means, it will be terribly difficult to devise policies to defend it.

Reader Comments

Marv Swett

December 15, 2008 1:43 PM

Perhaps a lesson in tiered service vs. co-location is order. That may temper your haughty editorial:

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20081215-google-backing-off-net-neutrality-with-isp-deal-not-really.html

Anon

December 15, 2008 1:52 PM

Dear Stephen Wildstrom,

The first word of this article is a typo. Please fix.

Dylan

December 15, 2008 1:53 PM

I think this is perfectly fine. Otherwise it would be similar to a person driving a car with 100 HP, mad at the person driving a car with 300 HP claiming that isn't road neutrality-- that other person shouldn't be able to drive faster ("up to the speed limit").

Good Point

December 15, 2008 2:03 PM

I my mind this violates net neutrality, regardless of what Lessig says.

I think the issue came into the public's view when SBC floated the idea that they would give lower priority to content providers (Google) if they didn't pay for higher priority.

Now Google is requesting higher priority and is willing to pay for it.

It sounds like two sides of the same coin to me.

Dave

December 15, 2008 2:20 PM

"when real money is at stake, it can be counted upon to act, as it should, in its corporate interest."

Nice quote. So when those companies made poison showers for the Nazis, they were doing the right thing. When Henry Ford helped the Nazis by consulting with his Ford factories on efficiency, that was also the right thing to do. Likewise, I guess knowingly putting dangerous fuel tanks into the Pintos to save a few bucks per car was morally the high ground, because it worked for the corporate interest.

That said, I agree that this is a non-issue and just another straggler trying to make Google look bad because they really are the best-behaved, most moral company in their class. (Among other things, they refused to turn over personal data to China and the U.S. government - unlike MSN and Yahoo.)

TimL

December 15, 2008 2:21 PM

I'm with Marv there. I'm pretty tired of this new crop of uninformed reporters making inaccurate statements to grab a headline. If Google really was doing something a little shady the "actual" tech industry would speak in a very loud clear voice for all to hear. This fishing for a story where there is not a story is pretty pathetic.

GloomBoom.com

December 15, 2008 2:40 PM

Google is a great company and is doing what any other strong company would do - trying to get an advantage. Check out GloomBoom.com - it will make your day!

CMG

December 15, 2008 2:46 PM

I admire Google, but I think it is trying to have it both ways. It wants to appear to be a good citizen, so it favors net neutrality. But that could be simply because it has a way around it. What if it did not? Would it still favor net neutrality?

Google's response to the WSJ article was disingenuous. And the Google defenders in this thread are themselves confused.

Canada

December 15, 2008 4:01 PM

This doesn't violate net neutrality at all! Google's just trying to make it much easier and much faster for people to access Google's servers. That has nothing to do with net neutrality, since it has nothing to do with different levels of priority for different people! It would be a violation if Google's CEO was accessing better or faster bandwidth than me or you just because he can pay for it. If all Google want's to do is make it easier and faster for everyone in the world to continue using Google for free, I'm game and I have no clue why anyone would even be mildly offended by that. What, do you not like free information at your fingertips? Maybe we should declare war on Wikipedia too?

Nate

December 15, 2008 4:24 PM

I don't understand - Google's proposal would make Google applications and data faster, but would not make anyone else's data or applications any SLOWER.

In fact, since Google is locally caching some of their content with ISPs, one could validly argue that Google will be taking up less overall bandwidth from the ISP out to the Internet, and therefore other applications might even run FASTER.

Google isn't proposing anything that would cripple their competition, or slow anyone else down. They are trying to make their own systems seem RELATIVELY faster, but in absolute terms they are only speeding themselves up, not trying to slow down anyone else.

Frankly, I'm not even sure "net neutrality" is completely relevant to the debate - Google is NOT paying for higher priority of existing bandwidth or to slow anyone else down so their applications run faster. They are paying to locally cache their content.

ISPs already do similar things in the form of cache servers. Google is just offering them another cache server, which just happens to be preloaded with lots of Google content and can't be used for anything else. So it's a single-purpose cache server in the server farm.

That doesn't mean that (a) the ISP has to stop using all their other cache servers, or (b) no one else can put in their own cache servers.

If Google was asking the ISP to slow down traffic for anyone else, I'd be the first to scream and shout about net neutrality. But they are not. Their actions may actually speed up access to their competitors (by freeing up overall ISP->Internet bandwidth).

They'll speed up their own services by a larger margin, of course, but I don't see anything here that would slow down anything non-Google...

G

December 15, 2008 4:49 PM

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Preston

December 15, 2008 5:35 PM

This isn't a "net neut" violation. If you are willing to pay more for enhanced services, so be it. As long as it is not to the detriment of others.

The real question is: Why are we haggling over abysmal internet speeds when regular folks in places like Taiwan and Japan are cruising along at 12 to 25mbps everyday?

PaulB

December 15, 2008 6:09 PM

If Google was trying to create an exclusive deal with ISP's you might have a story. But there's nothing to stop Yahoo and MSN doing the same thing.

Omachonu

December 15, 2008 6:21 PM

Akamai did the same thing in the late '90s, and ISPs were completely receptive to hosting their servers, because it reduced the amount of traffic they had to either carry across their backbone or send down pipes they paid for.

Even with Akamai's server placement, all of the traffic on the network was treated the same, no packets got preferential treatment. That is the very principal of net neutrality, and it still applies regardless of where the servers are located.

The WSJ's article, and your response, are both flawed.

Steve Wildstrom

December 15, 2008 7:18 PM

The href="http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20081215-google-backing-off-net-neutrality-with-isp-deal-not-really.html">Ars Technica article reference by Marv Swett is a good discussion of network-edge caching. The problem I see is that people throw around the term "net neutrality" with little agreement on what it means. I'm not sure that the effects of what Google is proposing are significantly different from the effects of Google paying backbone carriers for higher priority on their networks. If YouTube content is cached at6 a Verizon data center near me, it will absolutely be favored over video from Joe's Startup Video Service 20 hops away. Is there anything wrong with this? I'm not sure. But I think a lot of people are being less than honest about the terms of the debate.

Ryan

December 15, 2008 7:28 PM

I am a supporter of net neutrality for my own selfish interest, but at the end of the day these companies are trying to make a profit. Nothing in life is free, but I just hope that we can make the internet as free as possible without more regulation and "nickel and diming" we've seen in such places as in the cell phone industry.

Phil

December 16, 2008 1:51 AM

Google. Ah yes. The we WILL improve your page even if you don't have any use for it. I think that can also be termed "You will be assimilated." You will have chat even if you don't chat. You will have canvas view even if you have no use for it. Actually they might very well need this since the way my igoogle pages slowed down after they did the change. Might give them an even playing ground again. I wouldn't know. Except for divesting my self of my gmail accounts which I am doing as I notify my contacts, I don't google anymore.

Dukhiram

December 16, 2008 2:09 AM

With the growth of video, if every Youtube clip has to be fetched from a Google data center parts of metro internets would soon break -- this prevents tremendous wastage of backbone, Goog to be lauded for getting off the busy highways and spending $$ to reduce congestion for everybody. This has nothing to do with net-neutrality.

The reporter is not very bright, or the editor is worried about ad-spend from the telcos (much like WSJ.)

Stan

December 16, 2008 2:10 AM

Net Neutrality means that QOS is not dependent on the Source or Destination addresses in IP packets. Nothing more. Physical server location has nothing to do with it.

gonzo

December 16, 2008 2:17 AM

Anything that changes the internet from how it has existed previously and allows corporate interests (of any kind) to control or otherwise manipulate it is against net-neutrality. Net-neutrality is what we have always had. Anything else is not, i repeat, NOT net-neutrality. Stop treating us like we're five years old. You're a tool for the ruling elites and you know it. Shove that up your tailpipe and smoke it.

Reed

December 16, 2008 2:37 AM

I agree that "net neutrality" is too slippery of a term. To me the central question is: How should ISPs be regulated, given that most consumers effectively have only one choice of broadband provider? Unregulated monopoly power can lead to some pretty bad outcomes.

Edge caching is a bit of a smokescreen, regardless of your politics on this issue. From a technical standpoint caching cannot *degrade* performance for any sites. There are no losers with this technology. So I don't view it as an abuse of monopoly power if my ISP implements caching, and even makes money off it, because it improves my experience across the board. On the other hand I take a much dimmer view of ISP actions that aim to degrade some aspect of the user experience, as leverage to get revenue from content providers, or to censor content. Comcast was caught doing this recently with P2P traffic.

From this viewpoint, the WSJ article is a diversion from the real net neutrality debate, and nothing Google does is material. The central issue is how should we regulate the ISPs given that most people don't have a choice in broadband provider (in the US anyway).

Shelia Kensington

December 16, 2008 3:15 AM

Net non-neutrality means 'magic carpool lanes' for content. Edge caching means living closer to where you work. The 'magic lane' harms everyone else. The shorter commute frees the roads up for everyone.

csabill

December 16, 2008 3:27 AM

Co-locating is an advantage for any content provider. Rack space isn't cheap anywhere. Co-lo isn't a violation net-neutrality. Google simply wants to provide better service. As long as nothing prevents MSN or Yahoo from doing the same thing... I think this is perfectly net-neutral.

What would you say about black-box trading systems that pay to be co-located in a stock exchange...???

captbilly

December 16, 2008 3:28 AM

I don't believe that any analogy from another business fits the internet model. The idea of net neutrality is that our society is becomming reliant on the internet for information, and we shouldn't deprive people of that information becasue they cannot pay for it. I suppose it is inevitable that some people will pay for higher bandwidth than others, but how far are we willing to go with access to the information that our citizens need to perform in a way that is best for our society.

Certainly we don't want to see providers limit access to certainmaterial that they might find politically objectionable (think of Rupert Murdock controlling what news is on the web), but how much material should be considered optional. Since the beginning of the internet users have paid for access to certain sites and no one seriously thinks that is inherently wrong. We have to think long and hard though before we let a few providers start to buy up all the smaller providers and start limiting what we can access.

Walter from Africa

December 16, 2008 3:38 AM

Great debate, very clear and highly relevant for the 4+ billion people trying to gain access at prices of up to 50% of monthly income just for a mobile voice service, let alone access to Google products and services. I wonder how the net neutrality debate will pan out with the FCC's AWS-3 free internet access plans that have been put on hold.

Cookie_Juran

December 16, 2008 3:45 AM

Net neutrality, to me, is the ability to do what I want without my ISP placing any, in what I consider, unfair restrictions upon my usage, such as P2P network trafic or gamming. Large cooperations such as google who want to develop an advantage for themselves with higher bandwidth for thier services are not breaking the principle of neutrality as I (an average consumer) sees it. Just don't allow cooperations to block access to sites or services that may be a threat to them.

Anon

December 16, 2008 3:51 AM

There's Nothing Confusing About Net Neutrality. Its just the conservatives trying to hijack the airwaves as usual.

Goodman Green

December 16, 2008 5:13 AM

Google is good. Google is all. Google is going to solve all our problems. Google is not censored. Google is our benevolent dictator. Google is the Alpha and Omega of internet search engines. Google is your friend.

All hail Google, our master!

Learn from it. Let it shape your mind. Drink the kool-aid folks. Drink it up and sleep.

tse123123

December 16, 2008 5:21 AM

The one good point this article makes is that net neutrality means different things to different people. In a way, the net is like the roads on which all this traffic (information) flows. It will take a lot of sorting out, but we can look at how we've handled our own traffic issues to help us make the right decisions: commuter lanes, traffic lights, speed limits, etc. When the traffic gets bad, people want to find a way around it-- is it appropriate for them to pay for their own private high speed highways? Can that be done in a way that doesn't make the traffic for the rest of the people worse? Just as in how we oversee our roads, there is a very clear and strong need for the government to oversee and regulated these issues.

LIZZIE

December 16, 2008 6:07 AM

I dont know what the hell you all talking about :S

John D

December 16, 2008 6:24 AM

If we want higher speeds and faster access from our Internet, users are going to have to pay more through fees or ads. Telephone and cable companies already tier their services. Just as first class air fares sunsidize coach prices, premium services pay more of the infrastructure costs. Also, why shoud a heavy user of audio and video content be subsidized by low bandwidth-using customers? If we take away profit opportunites for faster services, they won't get built and the US will slip further behind in Internet access quality. I'm sick of the entitlement mentality of "free Internet" advocates.

willie

December 16, 2008 6:33 AM

Google is a company. Therefore it is evil. There is no such thing as a *good* company.

lmn

December 16, 2008 6:59 AM

Absolute Non-Discrimination: Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu: "Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally."[2] University of Michigan Law School professor Susan Crawford states that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality of service considerations.."[8]

Limited Discrimination without QoS Tiering: United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.[9]

Limited Discrimination and Tiering: This approach allows higher fees for QoS as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. According to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: "If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service."[1] "[We] each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me."[10]

John

December 16, 2008 7:55 AM

This certainly is not a violation of net neutrality. Let's say you are designing a website that will only interest people in San Diego. Would you then put the server in Australia? No, you would put it in San Diego so that it would be as close as possible to the people using it--and this does not violate net neutrality. All Google is doing is just that, trying to get their servers as close as possible to the people using them. They just happen to have a world wide audience so "as close as possible" for Google is as close to the ISPs as possible. This isn't a net neutrality issue at all, net neutrality is about favoring packets from one source over another. Locations of severs is irrelevant. Get over it people. This whole thing only became a story because the WSJ made it one.

Sean

December 16, 2008 10:41 AM

This is not a violation of net neutrality. It is just another company caching it's contents in another location. Many companies often do this to handle an anticapated increase in traffic or to speed up their own sites. The only difference here is that Google is under the microscope.

Gary

December 16, 2008 11:21 AM

Google's advocacy of net neutrality is a complete farce. They have been the biggest winners of a non-neutral model - just look at search which is definitely not neutral (you have to pay to get noticed). It is complete hippocracy for Google to be playing the open internet card.

Mike

December 16, 2008 11:23 AM

As has been mentioned above, this is no different than what Akamai has been doing for over eight years.

It will save Google some money.

It will also allow Google to push their Apps right into the local networks of the ISPs and drain their email and managed services business.

Look at what Google has done with Postini -- sneakily undercutting many of their long-time resellers with a direct-to-consumer approach. The 'Do No Evil' mantra does not apply in this case. Google will eventually do to the ISP and IT shop what WalMart did to the mom-and-pop businesses -- crush them.

Little Guy

December 16, 2008 11:49 AM

Think about it. Google is likely to be able to place a cache at the site of any ISP it wants. Probably for free. But could any ISP afford to allow just ANYONE to get free hosting by putting a cache at their sites? Doubtful, since caches take up space and power and require access for maintenance. So, in what way is this neutral? Google can get its servers into places where CoolNewInternetGarageStartup.com can't. Google is still getting preferential access to infrastructure -- it's just co-location space instead of pipes.

Kent

December 16, 2008 12:45 PM

To those that understand the issue, this appears to be an opponent of net neutrality (WSJ) trying to confuse the issue.

Tiered service and cache servers are totally different issues. Google isn't paying for their traffic to be given priority over others, they are investing in distributed servers so that the distance data has to travel is less - thereby providing their customers a better experience.

The difference is that ALL servers at the location where Goggle places it's caches will be treated exactly the same - the pipe isn't artificially manipulated by the service provider to slow Google's traffic and speed Microsoft's (or vice versa).

This is an attempt to make something quite simple appear confusing.

Jl

December 16, 2008 1:02 PM

I sometimes wonder, does anyone truely understand the current infrastructure/ back haul issues associated with the ever changing internet content from both a wireless and wireline perspective. The reason I ask is, if these large companies who have invested dearly in the infrastructure to carry the transport of information does not constantly continue to invest in larger pipes, which are upgraded daily with large capital investments, we are going to some day have a back haul problem that will make this recent recession look like a trivial issue. If I were one of these companies, why would I want to continue to invest in a network that I can't get a consistant return from. And if you think for one minute that there is some other company and or goverment that can develop and deploy another substitute for the existing cable and wireless and wireline Communication companies current infrastructure at a reasonable cost and to reach the masses, you got another thing coming. And as I stated before, a world wide internet failure would make this global recession look like BAU compared to the impacts we would have for a major internet failure. So with that said, please understand the internet infrastructure is a what makes us enjoy the world as we know it today, and for one minute I would not what to move to an unknown maybe idea, that just like the medical benefits for all is a want but to deliver it is monumental. The grass does not always look greener.

Steve Wildstrom

December 16, 2008 1:17 PM

@JL--Andrew Odlyzko of the University of Minnesota has studied Internet traffic for years and has two good papers dealing relevant questions: "Threats to the Internet: Too much or too little growth?" and "Network neutrality, search neutrality, and the never-ending conflict between efficiency and fairness in markets." (PDF).

gonzo

December 16, 2008 4:20 PM

1) sites are censoring information already.
2) Google has handed over information to the Chinese government regarding users that has resulted in their imprisonment for having political views that were counter to the Chinese government's.
3) A "super-highway" that businesses would have to "pay to play" would do nothing but harm net-neutrality and eventually turn the net into nothing more than a glorified cable network.
4)Comcast was paying people off the street to attend an FCC hearing on the issue of net-neutrality in order to take up as many seats as possible and not allow the public (who really cared about this issue) from attending.

Stop drinking the kool-aid people. These people want to destroy the freedom of the internet and gain control over it and you. They care little about you and your wants or needs.

gerrrg

December 16, 2008 4:21 PM

Net Neutrality is an attempt to prevent Payola from infecting the internet, PLAIN AND SIMPLE.

Net Neutrality means no Payola...

Net Neutrality means no Payola...

Keep repeating in case you start to forget...and to be on the safe side, stop reading the infectious disease known as the Wall Street Journal.

Gordon S

December 16, 2008 4:38 PM

I realize that this topic is about Google and it's an important one, but I just can't hide my delight that SOMEONE, after these 8 years, finally gave George Bush a bit of deserved 'feedback' for the messes he got us in. I'm of course, referring to the 2 flung shoes. Millions and millions, not just outside the USA, are delighted that someone took this action!

Netboy

December 16, 2008 4:58 PM

Google's deal may be "non-discriminatory" but by its own nature is one unavailable to the vast majority of Internet content providers. By striking a deal with ISPs, they are undermining the principles of net neutrality.

Free Press -- a major proponent of net neutrality -- characterizes the practice as:

“Net Neutrality means no discrimination. It prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.”

The proposed Google/ISP deal "speeds up" access to Google-owned content. It ain't complicated folks.

gerrrg

December 16, 2008 9:19 PM

@Netboy

What Google did was co-locate their content servers. In fact, most of the content you view online is co-located. Akamai, Amazon, Level3...data co-located means that the internet isn't wasting time and fiber having to go back and forth from one of the country to the other side of the globe.

This isn't preferential treatment that Google asked for; in fact, they used language in their contract(s) to allow the ISP(s) to freely sign with anyone else. These are non-exclusive contracts.

You know, some dork at WSJ thought, "Aha - I finally have a gotcha moment!" And yet, he didn't. I mean, this is so lame, it deserves some special Darwinian Journalism Award, if only there was such a thing.

Looks like I'm going to have to put Business Week into my list of sites that have infected thinking.

Steve Wildstrom

December 16, 2008 10:23 PM

@gerrrg and others--Google is proposing co-location. Akamai, Limelight, et. al., run their content distribution networks from their own data centers. The practical effect may be the same, but Google is proposing to do something that is supposed to drive net neutrality advocates up the wall--pay ISPs for superior delivery. I actually think what Google is planning is a good thing for the Internet as a whole because it keeps wasteful traffic off the backbone. But I'm not the one making the rules of network neutrality and I don't think there is any question that the Google proposal violates at least the more stringent definitions of neutrality.

gerrrg

December 17, 2008 5:40 AM

@Steve Wildstrom
----
Uh sorry, but you're still not showing this as a violation of net neutrality. Google isn't receiving preferential treatment (by the fact they signed non-exclusive, open contracts), and their content isn't being held ransom for more money.

Now look at how AT&T specifically deemed torrents a threat to network speed, so they slowed down torrent data. The end user was adversely affected because of preferential treatment of the data that flows through the pipes.

Google's actions do not detrimentally affect the end user in any way.

Another example: Adobe - (hypothetically) who ends up co-locating their download environment over at Level3's premises, in order to speed the end-user's access.

A. You're allowing the ISPs to save money on limiting the distance internet traffic has to travel in order to reach the end user;
B. There is no detrimental effect on the end user for having Adobe's software downloads' speed increased and download traffic limited to a local backbone.
C. No one is arbitrarily assigning value to different types of data, and targeting that data to be slowed down for others. Google's plan is a win-win for everyone.

Seriously, it's not a question of violating stringent definitions; it's more a question of how broadly do you want to define neutrality? By using the same line of logic that is being applied to Google's case, then by your (and WSJ's) definition of neutrality, ISPs are already affecting traffic by charging more for faster speeds.

Steve Wildstrom

December 17, 2008 7:50 AM

@gerrrg--You're right--provided everyone accepts your definition of net neutrality. The problem though, as I said at the outset, is that there is no agreed-upon definition. And what Google is proposing--as far as I know there are no deals yet--definitely violates some definitions. In a June blog post titled "What Do We Mean by Net Neutrality," Richard Whitt seemed to define any arrangement in which a content provider pays an ISP for preferential treatmenton local delivery as a violation of the principles.Let me say this one more time: I think what Google is doing is a good thing from both a business and an engineering standpoint. I'm just tired of Google's tendency to wrap everything they do in a mantle of sanctimony.

Doug

December 17, 2008 10:04 AM

@Steve Wildstrom -- Three problems here:

1. WSJ technical misunderstanding of co-located cache servers. Not only is this an existing industry of public companies (Akami et. al.), it is also a benefit to every Internet user by reducing redundant backbone traffic. This makes both cached pages (from local servers) and uncached pages (over a less-busy backbone) reach ISPs and end-users sooner. WSJ could more aptly have written "Supply-side Internet backbone data hog Google is finally investing in cache servers to reduce global network congestion" if they were insistent on making a story out of non-news.

2. Focusing on the 'Net Neutrality' label rather than the substance of what is trying to be maintained (the pro NN side) or changed (the anti-NN side.) The issue is simple. From inception to the present the Internet--and the ISP you connect through--delivers packets from sender to receiver at the rate they arrive to the ISP and at the rate you've paid to get them from the ISP (i.e., your "download rate.") Nothing suggests that you cannot pay more for faster ISP-to-you rates. Indeed, every provider has tiers of rates corresponding to service qualities and speeds. (Think paying extra for overnight package delivery.) But the ethic of the Internet is that whatever speed of download you contracted for applies to all packets you request, WHEREVER THEY COME FROM. The Net Neutrality banner is about keeping things this way.

A fundamental modification, advanced by AT&T and others and against which the NN banner was raised, is that it should cost more (above the contracted Internet fee) to get data from certain destinations--the popular ones, of course, like Google, Skype, torrents, and others. This money, paid by either the sender or the receiver, is not like extra postage; it is like the postman saying, "you've got several letters here. One is from your mother. I'll need a dollar extra if you want me to give you that one." Some would call this extortion. If ISPs as common carriers of data ("dumb pipes") can morph into a price-per-byte-by-value-of-data-to-you delivery service then they have a highly valuable tax/franchise on the Internet, for example, maybe it costs an extra $0.50 for your ISP to allow you to watch a YouTube video or an extra 1% of purchase price to have the luxury of shopping at Amazon. There is venomous anger on one side, delicious avarice on the other, and too many clueless writers in the middle.

3. Final problem is your own argument that "Google would be guilty under AT LEAST SOME meaning of Net Neutrality." This idea is its own parody. ("2+2=5 under AT LEAST SOME meaning of addition.") Think, man, what you are doing to logic!

Worse, caching servers clearly have nothing to do with NN, so "AT LEAST SOME" in this instance means "UNDER NO PLAUSIBLE." The presence or absence of edge caches will change nothing for either side of the debate. Without caches, the threat and argument is as above. With caches, the ISP will save on costs across the backbone by avoiding a fetch to Google-afar and enjoy easy, free access to Google's (Akami's, L3's, Amazon's, ...) cache of popular content co-located within the ISP's datacenter--but they would still (in the anti-NN case) demand extra money (from you or Google) to deliver that content to you. Edge caching makes everyone (sender, backbone, ISP, receiver) better off in all cases.

Disclaimer: I have a strong position on Net Neutrality. Just think who wins (ISP) and who loses (users across the whole world, innovative start-ups, successful companies). The present open model must be maintained. However, there is no reason why more expensive, faster upload/download services should not be sold by ISPs.

Michael Sierchio

December 17, 2008 1:11 PM


Doug -

Your comments are lucid & cogent. As you point out, any user of Facebook, Apple's Software Update Service, or any number of other bits served by Content Delivery Networks (Akamai et al.) is already benefiting from putting content as close to the edge as possible.

gerrrg

December 17, 2008 5:05 PM

@Steven Wildstrom

Again, re-read that blog post by Richard Whitt, and it is clearly stated,

"There is widespread agreement among all parties that outright blocking, impairing, or degrading Internet traffic should not be tolerated."

That is THE basis for broad understanding of Net Neutrality.

AGAIN, show me how Google's actions are detrimental to the end user, even that of someone using Microsoft's Live Search?

Let us not strive to make a mountain out of a mole hill. The WSJ's piece is bombastic journalism.

Steve Wildstrom

December 17, 2008 7:22 PM

@gergg
No one, except perhaps Scott Cleland, could possibly take exception to Whitt's statement. That's what makes it useless as a basis for meaningful policy. You keep asking me to show how Google's actions are detrimental to the end user when I have repeatedly said that I believe they are beneficial to end users. All I have accused Google of is contradicting its own past positions.

jim

December 18, 2008 5:21 PM

STAN said it best, "Net Neutrality means that QOS is not dependent on the Source or Destination addresses in IP packets. Nothing more. Physical server location has nothing to do with it."

It's completely correct. Inspection of packets in order to alter delivery, for better or worse, is the absolute crux of Net Neutrality. Everything else, it seems, is fair game. If I decide to pay for more bandwidth than my neighbor, why shouldn't that be allowed? Now if my ISP attemtps to extort money from me in order to allow my packets to move along,
then that is wrong.

gerrrg

December 18, 2008 7:27 PM

@Steve Wildstrom

As I recall, you pointed to Whitt's post to argue that, in fact, Google violated their own definition of Net Neutrality. In response, I quoted directly from that post to show that Whitt, in fact, outlined broadly agreed-upon terms of Net Neutrality, of which Google clearly didn't violate.

In review of your current critique of Whitt's post itself, it does no good to now suggest that Whitt's post is useless to define Net Neutrality. If Whitt's post outlined a broadly accepted definition of Net Neutrality, it seems to me that you and the WSJ are guilty of trying to nuance that position into something that conforms to what YOU think should be considered Net Neutrality. It is when someone or some people try to nuance the broadly accepted terms of Net Neutrality, do we have confusion and conflict, which is precisely what is going on here.

For the record, you accused Google of contradicting itself on Net Neutrality, to which I respond by asking politely, to please show where and when. Having pored through the entire Google Public Policy Blog, I have not found anything to suggest a contradiction of their stated policy.

Further, as a point of contention, I find it immensely curious that anyone could find fault with a public policy to benefit the end user. At best it is an oxymoron, at worst it's asking Government to come up with policies that make end users losers.

googler

December 20, 2008 1:31 AM

"Doug" was completely correct. The Google deal with ISPs is strictly a bandwidth saving plan and has nothing to do with net neutrality.

It improves the experience for the user, it saves the ISP money, and is (excuse me) neutral with respect to its competitors. Seriously, that's *it*.

Suggestions otherwise are either technical misunderstandings or partisan distortions.

informed customer

December 26, 2008 1:45 PM

co-location, peering, and edge caching is a common practice in network architecture/engineering. It is done by most companies who as their "on ramp" to the internet.

This does not get the peering hosts any preferred treatment, all it is is an engineering solution to a complex problem of content delivery. In fact every major company (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and everyone else) does it.

It has nothing to do with net neutrality which is the debate between peers paying for the on ramp (which all companies that have a presence on the internet already do) and the off ramp (last mile access).

Telecoms want to have it both ways. They want customers to pay for access to the internet. Have companies pay for access to the internet so you can get the content. But now they want to add a new charge.. That is that they want the content providers to pay them for the content that the customer is paying them to get access to (read that 3x.. that's the whole problem.).

The internet was designed (tcp/ip and all its cohorts) to be an "access system" ("Pay the tariffs for the "on ramp"). Telecoms received money back in the 80 & 90's from Al Gore and Co. (he wasn't too far off in his "i created the internet" speech..he gave them our money..) to build fiber optic networks (such as sprint/uunet loop and others) to offer a service. They currently offer the service to their customers (including Yahoo, Google, and yourselves..) to receive access _to_ the internet. Not to receive access to your computers (cellphones, pdas, cars, etc).

So, if net neutrality fails, giant telecoms who are currently charging 2x what asian telecoms charge for 5x the bandwidth (see: South Korea) you effectively will see innovation being stifled. Not because Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo cant afford for "better" access (this is not the same as co-locating or peering.. seriously.. it isn't..peering and collocation is as old as the internet..trust me..). It will kill the next Google, the next Microsoft, and the next Wikipedia, or the next company who can't offer service because they can't pay the telecoms to get access your computers..and hand-held devices.

This is a bigger problem than you think. It is always easy to become a cynical and see "big" companies as being "evil".. but we must remember that their success (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, etc..) are all billion dollar companies because we made them that way. We voted with our clicks and eyeballs. We shaped them.. When they don't offer services we use/like/want or need, we will collectively drop them.

Without net neutrality... Their replacements (pending they fail us) will never be able to grow. Remember..

Microsoft took over where IBM/Apple failed (OS2/MacOS 7/8)

Google took over where Alta Vista and Yahoo failed

Wikipedia took over where "others" failed (Encarta/).

This was what Vin Cerf and his research team had in mind when they drove around northern California in a milk truck 30 years ago; neglecting lunch.. they wanted people to communicate. And the only barrier to access for people and companies should be the "on ramp" never the "off ramp".

I would listen to him.. he made the thing.. "The Internet" that is... :)

If telcos can't make money, it would be akin to an orange farmer who has too much overhead selling his oranges.. so he charges the consumer.. and now wants to charge his supplier. Remember, no one would use the internet.. without content.


They need to spend their funds on R&D instead of marketing gimmicks and high CEO salaries. They are becoming dinosaurs and this is why "net neutrality" is even an argument in the 4th quarter of their tired business models. The whole argument for any company to pay to get off the internet is contrary to almost every content delivery model ever devised. Imagine if Barnes and Nobel said "we don't pay for books, you pay to place them in the store. And customers pay to receive the books!". Imagine if Jerry Seinfeld payed NBC to distribute his show, and the customer payed NBC to watch it. All "last mile" content delivery services (book stores, tv networks, etc) have costs. The telecoms are either in the wrong business, or needs better management.. Its not my problem if you can't model your pricing for oranges. And lobbying the government (of the people) for money (they received several times!) is about as low as you can go. They are now in the media making wholly false and inflammatory claims of other companies (their own customers for "on ramp service!" want free rides (because they want more revenue!). Do what others do when they want more revenue.. Innovate!


Well, I'm gone.. :)

Here is some reading from another "upstart".. that only had the chance because they played by the rules, and pay for access to the internet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality

Enjoy!

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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