Have The Big Internet Companies Turned Their Back On Net Neutrality?

from the that's-what-you-get dept

In general, I side pretty strongly with Tim Lee's recent net neutrality paper suggesting that we shouldn't rush into net neutrality legislation that is likely to have unintended consequences -- but at the same time, we shouldn't downplay the importance of a neutral end-to-end internet. One of the key points of his paper was that the net neutrality battle, as portrayed in the press, was quite misleading. It has never really been about "internet companies" vs. "telcos." And, this point becomes especially important for consumers who value neutrality, who mostly lined up behind the big internet companies on the assumption they would fight hard to protect net neutrality.

However, as the Wall Street Journal is noting, it seems like many of those big internet companies that were strong supporters of net neutrality are now moving away from that position, and some may be going in completely the opposite direction. In fact, the article highlights (without any named sources... so...) that Google has been busy negotiating preferential traffic deals with various internet providers, such that it would get to place its own servers on their premises to give users a faster route to Google's servers. Google's only comment was to deny that this would violate net neutrality concepts, though some might disagree. On the whole, I'd have to agree that this doesn't appear to violate network neutrality rules, as it's more like Google setting up its own private Akamai-like CDN, and, as we've explained before, a CDN does not violate neutrality.

So, to be clear, it looks like the WSJ is blowing this totally out of proportion when it comes to the Google/net neutrality angle. But that doesn't mean it doesn't raise other important questions for those who line up behind the big internet companies in the expectation that Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo will fight various fights for them. The article details how each one of those companies has stepped back from the fight in recent days, and even have been doing deals with telcos that are perhaps on that fuzzy border of a non-neutral internet.

In some ways, this is similar to the point we've been making in some other areas, where people and companies, who used to rely on Google's legal team to fight their battles, now need to realize that Google is no longer the defender of Silicon Valley. While the company used to take the stance that what was good for the internet user overall would be good for Google in the long term, in the last year or so, the company has increasingly made decisions that go against that principle. Instead, it's done a number of deals that allow it to leverage its cash reserves to make life more difficult for others, but allow Google to protect itself.

So, even if Google isn't really backing away from net neutrality right now, given its other actions recently, people need to increasingly realize that Google no longer always views "what's good for internet users is good for Google," and should plan accordingly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 5:54am

    I always knew Google was the devil in a bunny suit... but I just can't stop using their products!

     

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  2.  
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    The Arbiter, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 6:23am

    On Google

    Honestly, I hate to see it happen, but I knew it was coming. Google is a big business. They can't always have a "what's good for the consumer" outlook. Eventually, all companies move to a "we need to protect ourselves" strategy, because if they don't protect themselves, they may not be able to provide for the consumer any more. On the upside, I think that Google will definitely keep the Internet user's best interests on the list, just not at the top anymore.

     

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  3.  
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    hegemon13, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 6:26am

    Re:

    Google is not the "devil in a bunny suit." They are simply another corporation trying to make the most money possible. It is a conglomeration of a LOT of people, and clearly some of the more greedy ones are gaining more influence. The problem is not that Google is evil. They just can't live up to the techno-Messiah reputation that everyone built up for them.

     

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  4.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 6:37am

    Unintended Consequence - The Private Sector

    What is troubling with the network neutrality debate is that those who say that regulation would have unintended consequences seem to never suggest that private industry reign in their abusive business practice that would detract from operating in a "neutral" manner. We have already seen, on TechDirt, the unintended consequences when private companies can operate in a whimsical fashion. Regulation may have unintended consequences but so does the lack of regulation when private industry simply claims "trust us" with no guarantees as to what "trust us" really means.

    If we want to avoid the unintended consequence of regulation, let's here from the ISPs and the Telcos commitments for network neutrality. Regretfully, the silence on this issue implies that the ISPs and the Telcos want the "flexibility" to operate in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

     

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  5.  
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    eleete, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 6:50am

    Re: Unintended Consequence - The Private Sector

    "claims "trust us" with no guarantees as to what "trust us" really means."

    Isn't that what our government is constantly claiming ? Sounds exactly like what the 'regulators' are claiming with all the bailouts. Sadly it seems the more regulation we have in place the more harm is done to any industry.

     

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  6.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 7:30am

    Re: Re: Unintended Consequence - The Private Sector

    True, but my point is that private industry does not have a good tract record of "trust us" either. Ask all those who invested with Bernard L. Madoff.

     

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  7.  
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    BJC (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 7:30am

    Google has been placing servers in carrier hotels for years. It just makes sense to have some caching (and possibly web crawling) take place at a carrier-neutral peering point where bandwidth is essentially free. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

    Best analysis of the day is Here.

     

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  8.  
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    Bill, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 7:49am

    What is the big deal here?

    What they are doing, does not violate net-neutrality in any way. In simplistic terms, Net-Neutrality is when the ISP charges sites fees to make the connection their customers get to the site faster. If you don't pay, you get slower connections. What Google is doing is putting a server at the ISP location so that when you go to Google, instead of going all the way across the internet, it connects to the server that is local and you get your data faster. This is done by other companies, like Akamai does now. Also Netflix has a CDN whis is what Google wants to setup. The Netflix CDN makes the streaming movies they offer faster since the server is at your ISP instead of in the basement somewhere in some corner of the world. This is not a bad thing, this is going to make Google services faster. See the following for an explanation of what they are doing:

    http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2008/12/net-neutrality-and-benefits-of-caching.html

     

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  9.  
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    chris (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 10:45am

    colocation is fine, QOS is not.

    if you want to cut a deal with internet service providers to put your boxes in their data centers so you can be fewer hops from the last mile, that is fine. in fact, it might help to reduce the strain on some backbone connections, meaning better service for everyone.

    it would be great if google made such an arrangement with my ISP. i would love nothing more than to connect to gmail and google docs at the full 10mbit my cable company claims i can connect at. i've never actually seen 10mbit, even on speedtests, but that's another story. i also think it would be cool for google.com to have a 10.x.x.x IP address when i ping it from my house.

    google will respond faster than competitors that haven't made colocation agreements without harming the connections of competitors. this makes money for the ISP's and helps me get more benefit from a service i use everyday.

    the neutrality issue is about using QOS or some other method to deliberately and artificially degrade the speed or quality of connections to non paying content or service providers, or worse, to providers that compete with the ISP's own offerings. i do not use my cable company's phone service and i would not be happy about them playing games with my SIP phone.

    the problem isn't with giving higher speeds to those who are willing to pay. faster connections should cost more than slower ones. if ISPs want to sell higher bandwidth connections to their end users, that too should be fine. if my cable company could sell me a connection with a 2mbit uplink i would buy it in a minute. hell, i would gladly trade a couple of mbit/sec in download speed for an extra meg in uplink.

    the problem is in discriminating against those who can't/won't pay for faster connections by introducing artificial delays or degradation in order to push competitors and small providers off of their networks. also, restricting access based on content is a bad idea. i should decide what i see, hear, and read, not the government or my ISP.

    with colocation, connections are faster because there are fewer hops to be made. this is a natural rather than artificial improvement in performance.

    moving servers closer (from a network topology standpoint) to the end user is not the same thing as degrading or giving priority to connections based on paid partnership.

     

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  10.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 10:48am

    Re: What is the big deal here?

    What they are doing, does not violate net-neutrality in any way

    Um. Did I not make that point in the post?

     

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  11.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 10:49am

    Re: Unintended Consequence - The Private Sector

    We have already seen, on TechDirt, the unintended consequences when private companies can operate in a whimsical fashion. Regulation may have unintended consequences but so does the lack of regulation when private industry simply claims "trust us" with no guarantees as to what "trust us" really means.

    It's not "trust us." It's trust, but verify. In the Comcast scenario, it was that public verification that forced Comcast to change its practices. And that can happen elsewhere as well.

     

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  12.  
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    bjc (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 4:12pm

    Re: Re: What is the big deal here?

    You made that point, and then went on for several paragraphs casting dubious light on Google's recent actions.

    I'm sure it's good for readership numbers to play both sides of the fence, but what are you saying? Wishy-washy pronouncements are weakening your position, whatever it may be.

     

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  13.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 5:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: What is the big deal here?

    You made that point, and then went on for several paragraphs casting dubious light on Google's recent actions.

    Ugh. That's not what I intended to do. The *point* was that it's silly for people to rely on Google to fight these battles. While it doesn't look like Google has backed away from net neutrality it *HAS* backed away from other principle lately.

    I'm sure it's good for readership numbers to play both sides of the fence, but what are you saying? Wishy-washy pronouncements are weakening your position, whatever it may be.

    It wasn't wishy-washy. It was making two important points. I had assumed that my readers were smart enough to hold two separate points in their head at once:

    Point 1: This is clearly not a net neutrality violation.

    Point 2: Even so, people shouldn't sit around and rely on big companies to fight their battles for them. Thus, even if Google hasn't backed away on this issue, it has on some others, and these sorts of articles should be warning signs to people to at least recognize that interests may, at points, diverge.

    I'm sorry if that wasn't clear, but it wasn't "playing both sides of the fence." It was making two points.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    LBD, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 8:23pm

    Why I used google.

    I used google because they defended me, and my interestests. They felt like the 'good guys'. But they've lost that.

    Who will step in to take Google's place? Whomever it is, they've got my business. Automatically. So long as they defend my interests as a surfer. I'd even bloody donate.

    Once they stop defending my interests...

     

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  15.  
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    Allen (profile), Dec 15th, 2008 @ 11:28pm

    Agreed the WSJ is blowing this out of proportion.

    On the second point whether or not people can rely Google to fight legal battles for them. Call me cynical, but I dont think that you ever really could - outside the "20%" time, google will look after their interests.

    Nothing wrong with that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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