Google and The Doublespeak of “Network Neutrality”
Here at ReveNews we strive to provide content not previously published elsewhere. The following article by longtime ReveNews author Brad Waller focuses on Net Neutrality. A timely and important subject worth revisiting.
This column is an outgrowth of a post made on our internal email list. A debate was started by a discussion of the Wall Street Journal article on Google looking to embed their servers with the various cable and network providers, and the intimation that this was a violation of “Network Neutrality.” As the discussion evolved, one participant wrote “This issue is so convoluted, it will require Stephen Hawking to sort it out.”
I’m not Stephen Hawking, but I am a Physicist…
What I get out of this is that Google wants to co-locate their servers inside the facilities of the Telcos so that the pages are served faster. They are asking to pay for this, and not to exclude anyone. This is a way to reduce latency and get better performance; this is not a fast track with preferential treatment. If Google were to ask for exclusive co-location, then there might be an issue. If the service providers were to downgrade everyone else who did not pay, that would be an issue.
Has anyone ever made claims that Akamai was violating Net Neutrality? They have servers located around the globe to optimize the delivery of their customers’ content and no non-customer has complained of unfair treatment when their content was not included for free.
The Net Neutrality issue is that the Telcos want to treat traffic differently by source. One video stream might be slowed down, while another might get the fast pipe. So I may be paying for 15/5 megabit service, but my ISP might decide to throttle some new company down to 1 megabit because they are not paying the extra fee for the best service. Maybe the ISP has their own video streaming service, and they want to charge the competition a dollar a bit to transmit the data, thus cutting everyone out. Maybe they want to charge a million dollars for the service, in which case the biggest services will be able to pay, and the up and coming services will not be able to afford it and fail because customers will see really slow file uploads.
This can be particularly stifling to new services that cannot compete with the established deep pockets and cable companies. What would Twitter do if they were asked to pay a fee for every tweet that gets passed through the network providers service, or risk being “managed” to the point where the real-time benefits are eliminated. Without a revenue stream they would just go away. How about Facebook? They are just starting to monetize their service and something like this might be enough to kill them off. I’m sure that is fine for the providers. But what about consumers?
This whole issue is one of doublespeak. Net Neutrality is really free and open access for all, yet the opposition calls it excessive regulation of the Internet. Senator Ted Stevens kicked this off back in 2006 when he said, “Until somebody tells me what net neutrality means, until they can give me a definition, I don’t want it in there. Right now, nobody knows what it means, so why put it in the bill?”
If nobody knew what it meant, then how did the FCC define it in an agreement with Verizon over their acquisition of MCI in 2005 where they agreed to “adhere to ‘network neutrality'” principles adopted by the FCC earlier this year? So Verizon had to agree to abide by Net Neutrality to get their merger approved, and now that agreement periods are over these companies are arguing that these same principles that they agreed to are confusing and impossible to define, as well as being unneeded government interference with free trade.
I think this issue is too simple for the government. Neutrality at is most basic means that ISPs pass through everything that comes in exactly the same, no matter the protocol (like Comcast) or source. Just treat all Web sites and services as equals with the same access to bandwidth. That way email, Web pages, music, streaming video, P2P traffic, and yes, Google, get the same access to bandwidth without any interference or additional charge.
An ISP or bandwidth provider must route all traffic and treat it equally. Act like a switch: data in, data out.
This article originally appeared in the newsletter for the Internet Oldtimers Foundation.