Google to WSJ: I Got Yer Dumb Pipes Right Here…
Ironic, isn’t it, that Google, one of Net neutrality’s staunchest advocates, has been approaching major cable and phone companies with a proposal that appears to violate the very tenets of that principle? How could a company that has argued tirelessly that all Internet traffic should be treated equally suddenly reverse course and seek preferential treatment for its own traffic?
How could a company whose Chief Internet Evangelist, Vint Cerf, once told the Senate Commerce Committee that allowing “broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success,” approach those carriers with a proposal that would seemingly do just that?
There’s a very simple answer to that question: Google is not doing that, and reports suggesting that is are misguided. Yes, Google (GOOG) “has approached major cable and phone companies” with a plan to “place Google servers directly within the network of the service providers.” Yes, this plan would improve content delivery speeds.
And, no, doing so does not violate the concept of network neutrality. If it did, companies like Akamai and Limelight, which also have servers hosted at broadband provider facilities, would long ago have been tarred as anti-Net neutrality villains. Colocating caching servers is a common practice that improves bandwidth usage by bringing data closer to the end user. And while it will certainly make Google’s services faster and more responsive, it won’t do so at the expense of non-Google services. That would be a violation of Net neutrality.
“Some critics have questioned whether improving Web performance through edge caching–temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to end users–violates the concept of network neutrality,” Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington telecom and media counsel explains. “As I said last summer, this myth–which unfortunately underlies a confused story in Monday’s Wall Street Journal–is based on a misunderstanding of the way in which the open Internet works…. All of Google’s colocation agreements with ISPs–which we’ve done through projects called OpenEdge and Google Global Cache–are non-exclusive, meaning any other entity could employ similar arrangements. Also, none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic.”
So Google is not negotiating exclusive deals for privileged access. It is not proposing “a fast lane for its own content.” It is not seeking to prioritize its traffic in violation of the Net neutrality principles it espouses. Frankly, this story has little to do with Net neutrality at all. “Network neutrality is about the routing of packets,” Tech Liberation Front’s Tim Lee explained earlier this year when Akamai was accused of violating Net neutrality. “A network is neutral if it faithfully transmits information from one end of the network to the other and doesn’t discriminate among packets based on their contents. Neutrality is, in other words, about the behavior of the routers that move packets around the network. It has nothing to do with the behavior of servers at the edges of the network because they don’t route anyone’s packets.”