Is Google Secretly Anti-Net Neutrality?

Google Strongly Disagrees

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The Wall Street Journal has created a ton of Internet buzz, but not in a good way. In what now appears to have been a slam against Google, Barack Obama, and Network Neutrality, there are misrepresentations, misquotes, and pure fabrications seemingly tailored toward a desired end: create the appearance Net Neutrality is losing its most important supporters.

The article, by Vishesh Kumar and Christopher Rhoads, centers on a proposal between Google and unnamed ISPs “to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.”

Net Neutrality Tug of War

That fast lane would be created by a Google project “internally” called OpenEdge and, Google’s Washington Telecom and Media Counsel Richard Whitt adds in his rebuttal, Google Global Cache. The strategy is to place Google servers within service provider networks to accelerate the delivery of Google content, especially YouTube videos, to the end user. It works by placing frequently-viewed content geographically closer to users to reduce load times.

“The Wall Street Journal story is fundamentally inaccurate portrayal of the current Net Neutrality debate, both in terms of the corporate participants and the issues involved,” says Markham Erickson, Executive Director of Open Internet Coalition.

Whitt agrees and clarifies that “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. We’ve always said that broadband providers can engage in activities like colocation and caching, so long as they do so on a non-discriminatory basis.”

This is similar to services provided by Akamai, Limelight, and Amazon’s Cloudfront, and not some secret Google plan to undermine its public stance for Net Neutrality. It’s expensive, yes, and only companies with deep pockets can make such arrangements, but, as David Isenberg explains, arrangements like this are non-exclusive on the access-side of the issue, not the content-delivery side:

“…if Google does edge caching it buys access. It’s the same as when I, as a residential customer, pay $34.95 for one megabit DSL service or $49.95 for 3 megabit DSL.

The concern of Network Neutrality advocates is not with access but with delivery. The fear is that Internet connection providers would charge for expedited delivery of certain content to the end user, and in so doing would put themselves in the business of classifying which content gets enhanced delivery.”

Isenberg’s interpretation jives with SaveTheInternet.com, which also disputes the Journal by defining the discrimination aspect of Net Neutrality. Tim Karr writes, “Net Neutrality means that the Internet should remain free and open to all users – that we should be free to visit any Web content without network operators or others blocking, impairing or degrading our connection. It ensures a free and full exchange of information without discrimination.”

It is the access-discrimination issue where Stanford’s Lawrence Lessig—a vocal and important advocate of Net Neutrality—departs with how the Journal has portrayed his stance. The article claimed Lessig had “shifted gears” and “softened his opposition to variable service tiers,” or charging consumers for higher speed access.

Writes Lessig: Missing from the article, however, is the evidence that my view is a ‘shift’ or ‘soften[ing]’ of earlier views. That’s because there isn’t any such evidence. My view is the view I have always had.”

Lessig isn’t the only named source disputing his portrayal in the article. Whitt, too, who calls the article “confused,” takes issue with a quote attributed to him:

“The Journal story also quoted me as characterizing President-elect Obama’s net neutrality policies as ‘much less specific than they were before.’ For what it’s worth, I don’t recall making such a comment, and it seems especially odd given that President-elect Obama’s supportive stance on network neutrality hasn’t changed at all.”

Those interested can read Obama’s still-posted stance on Net Neutrality at BarackObama.com, where it says:

"Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet. Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. . . .Because most Americans only have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against websites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment.

"This could create a two-tier Internet in which websites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing websites remain in a slower lane. . . .Barack Obama supports the basic principle that network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some web sites and Internet applications over others."

This strong language is the same as it has always been from the President-Elect, and if there is a new stance, the Journals needs to present evidence, not broad, questionable statements. In Obama’s explanation, though, we find the technical fine line Google is walking. Though open to anybody wishing to make caching arrangements with ISPs, the expense of doing so is prohibitive for most companies.


While Google gets a definite advantage by these arrangements, the ISPs are not actively (and fearfully, arbitrarily) deciding which companies can and cannot make the arrangements. This is one area that would remain market controlled (depending on how staunch one’s neutral net view is) by a content-provider’s ability to serve its own content, but the ISPs would remain “dumb pipes.” Caching arrangements mean Google can connect to those dumb pipes without special favor.

The Journal appears to have jumped on this fine line to create the impression net neutrality supporters are either hypocritical or reversing course, and it has done so with some pretty cheap journalism tactics. Kumar and Rhoads don’t offer access to the documents (in this transparent century, that’s often necessary), they quote anonymous sources “familiar” with what’s happening and named sources who dispute what was said. Quoting “sources familiar” isn’t too far off in Journalism World from the “some have questioned” justification for an editorialized point.

Much of the complaints about Net Neutrality have originated over the increased delivery of video—also the reason Google seeks to establish caching servers—and the myth that bandwidth is becoming scarce. This brings us back to another choice quote from Isenberg:

“…the screaming about Internet video is loudest from the companies most vested in the old video entertainment model.”

"With the strong support of President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress, this is the moment when Net Neutrality has its greatest appeal, clearest need and best chance of becoming law,” said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press.

Is Google Secretly Anti-Net Neutrality?
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  • Guest

    I had noticed recently that google was sometimes unreachable from my home comcast internet connection, while connections to other search engines continued to function properly.
    I was thinking that perhaps something like this was going on, and not working properly. For example, comcast was peering or colocating servers for google, and that connection was overloaded. It would be interesting if other comcast users have noticed this.


    Sounds like an old tried and true Journalistic trick; making news where there isn’t any. I guess it was a slow day around the Journal.

    There is a big difference between getting content on the web faster and getting gouged by your ISP for using bandwidth.

    Informed sources say Vishesh Kumar and Christopher Rhoads are full of crap. (You are welcome to quote me)


  • bj

    Astroturf is at it again, trying to muddy the waters since it’s the only way to lessen the impact of their coming defeat at the hands of a future FCC with Teeth.

    In the meantime some of us find it interesting that Harold Feld is leaving the Media Access Project. One only hopes that an FCC chair or an appointment somewhere in the Obama government is the reason for his resignation.

  • http://www.medlawplus.com Joe

    What is the heart of net neutrality? It’s not just equal access to the net. It’s equal free access. Large web companies spread points of hosting presence out around the country (and sometimes the world) to increase connection speeds for their content. This gives the big boys quicker delivery of their content than the small web companies. Nobody has argued that this violates the tenants of net neutrality.

    Google argues that an arrangement with an ISP to colocate servers with the ISP is no different that spreading around points of hosting presence. In theory true but it raises huge red flags when Google begins paying ISPs for a service which speeds delivery of its content to the ISP’s users. This is exactly the activity that net neutrality was designed to stop. It smacks of pay to play in the political arena. Yes, anyone can play … assuming they have enough benjamins. I don’t like it.

    • OkeyDoke

      I could not agree with you more! Not only does is smack of pay to play politics – I catch a whiff of or two of industry monopoly/collusion and the damn right awful stench of unfair competition. This is a tacit step towards google courting the very players whose job I thought it was to prevent actions towards this end. While it is true that CDN (Content Distribution Networks) are at the heart of making the web content that “the people” want more accessible, (youtube is a good example of this) and google as a search engine provider is indexed to this practice – it does seem like a prequel to set the tone for even more audacious and unbelievable manoeuvres, with manifold outcomes:

      Drive towards a saturated google web land – de facto a priori.
      Already google and the internet are synonyms!

      Lower the perceived standards of other providers by comparison – possible but the uniqueness of content I think should prevail.
      But for those competing with you tube a little bit unfairer.

      Force other players to raise their game – where one leads others follow.

      For sure there are a hell of a lot more!! Here’s to the future

  • yup

    i dont care good le is number 1 try using any other search engine and they all suck compared to google i was using yahoo and i searched for google and it couldnt even find GOOGLE WTF

    • GGP

      Dear yup: You’re an f-ing idiot. Yahoo most certainly returns SERPs when you search for the string “google,” so get off the drugs and get a life, man. Geez!

  • http://kissthebride.com.au Damon Taylor

    What if an arrangement was struck where colocation also meant that net neutrality was maintained. It wouldn’t be hard. Legislate it and regulate it. Sure there would be some strong conversations… but in the end the consumer would be better off…

    We would then have a faster… and free network.

    Sounds good doesn’t it…

  • Guest

    Sounds like some great link bait created by the Wall Street Journal. Whether the article is accurate or not, according to the accounts in this WebPro article it sounds as though the WSJ article must have got some great traffic!

  • http://www.theanaloguerevolution.com/resistance_is_futile_T_Shirt.htm tshirts

    The Virgin Media CEO has publicly stated he does not support net neutrality and Virgin are one of the biggest providers in the UK, soon when they start offering video content to download I would bet my wage that downloads from their site are lightning quick, whist others suffer, and perhaps any sites that criticise them. Maybe they will see the link in my comment name and cripple access to my site? (you aren’t paranoid if they really are after you!)

    If only Gordon Brown was as in touch with the modern world as Obama seems to be.

  • http://www.gulfjobsites.com Guest

    Media thrives on sensation. Even WebProNews’s subject line “Is Google Secretly Anti-Net Neutrality?” was phrased to prompt readers to open the email. And same applies to WSJ.

    It reminds me of a James Bond movie (dont remember the name) where the villain wanted to trigger a war at the launch of his news channel.

    If Google is paying ISPs to host local caches of its content for faster delivery to the local users, thats not against net neutrality. What would be wrong is if Google also asks the ISPs to either deny similar service or to purposely slow down the delivery of content of Google’s competitors.

  • http://www.icanspeel.com Barrett

    I couldn’t read any of that. It’s too long and dorky.

  • Guest

    Greedy g and company want to CONTROL what WE have access to. The questions is, will humans wake up and expose this CONTROL MATRIX AGENDA? Think for YOUR SELF and BE FREE.

  • Emanuel

    I see all this talk about internet neutrality, but is internet really open to all? As an European citizen, I often stuble on American “road blocks”: e.g. if I want to check out the latest episodes on scifi.com, I’m blocked, because I’m no American citizen, also: when I want to watch a concert on de BBC-site, I get blocked because I’m not an UK citizen etc.
    If you really think, internet should be open to all, let’s start with not allowing webservers to discriminate people based on the country they use internet from (including getting rid of those stupid Amazon/Ebay France debacles! And no, I’m no facist).

  • http://www.seethrureviews.com/Rocket-Spanish-Download-Reviews.html Rocket Spanish Reviews

    I personally think that the Internet should be open to everyone. However, sometimes its the country you live in that promotes censorship and there is really nothing we can do about that!

  • http://www.seovisions.com SEO Company

    Sounds like time for a tiered internet – one sector for commercial aspects, including commercial content, and another for educational and more discrete information.

  • http://www.pari-foot.fr/Betclick.html Betclick

    Great article, thanks!

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    thank you for your interesting article !

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