The Wall Street Journal Fly in Google's Net Neutrality Ointment

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-12-15 Print this article Print

There's a bloody brouhaha brewing in Washington, D.C., between Google and the Wall Street Journal.

The stalwart of journalism reported late yesterday that Google was canning its network neutrality support and looking to place its own servers in network service providers' data centers to speed its Web services to consumers.

The story also suggests Google and other bandwidth mongers are trying to gain me, first status in networks. In short, the rich get richer.

Net neutrality, of course, is the policy for not providing preferential treatment to content providers' data packets as they wait in the service providers "dumb pipes" queue to get streamed to users. The WSJ noted:

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Net neutrality advocates argue this would hinder competition in a space crawling with content providers who need network integrity. Allowing companies with deeper pockets to get priority packet streaming would consign the long tail of smaller providers to the deadpool.

Yet Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel Richard Whitt plainly refuted the notion that Google was backing away from net neutrality in a clear, concise blog post today.

He explained that its OpenEdge overture, which the WSJ has characterized as sneaky, devious deal to place "Google servers directly within the network of the service providers," is an offer to "colocate" servers within broadband providers' facilities to reduce the provider's bandwidth costs so that YouTube videos wouldn't have to be transmitted multiple times.

Like Google's open access proposals for wireless Internet, this would be done sans exclusivity, without discriminating whose traffic gets served first. Om Malik notes Google has the infrastructure to make this happen. Richard Bennett said net neutrality is a myth anyway. Yikes.

What's the takeaway in this "they said, the behemoth said" between the WSJ and Google? Whitt couldn't have quashed the conspiracy theory any better by quickly reaffirming Google's support for net neutrality. Lawrence Lessig, one of the Internet scholars the WSJ uses to bolster its report, also discredits the report. That right there should tell you the WSJ is cooking up some awful corned beef hash.

Now, if Google is ultimately ends up gaming the system somehow by nestling servers in providers' data centers and finding a way to control traffic, or doing something within its own data centers that is unseemly, then fool me once, shame on me. (Though if such a heinous conspiracy were proven you could be sure there are more. Corporate lies always come in bunches.)

However, given what's at stake -- Google's entire integrity -- I think would be asinine for Google to try such trickery; the government would crush it like a fat, juicy caterpillar in the maw of the American eagle.

What the WSJ has stirred up could be the fly in Google's net neutrality ointment, particularly if the pundits on Capitol Hill take this ball and run with it.

The situation smells like the electrified air before a train wreck.

Google's do no evil mantra, juxtaposed by the company's prodigious wealth, strong search ad business model and control of such valuable machines as YouTube, has made it a fun target for my journalist peers to take down.

Any time there is the whiff of impropriety, the journalists pounce to expose some alleged conspiracy. You can't blame them though! Google's Web search monopoly hides in plain sight.

This is no news flash, just a reaffirmation of what anyone else who is paying attention sees quarter after quarter as Google widens its market share lead.

This is why Google will rue the day it didn't decide to do away with that "Do no evil" saying, which among other things is code for we won't become a monopoly. Whoops. Even the government is concerned, threatening to sue it for trying to get in bed with Yahoo last month.

But Google has yet to extend this control to the mobile and social networking Internet, or to fully leverage YouTube, all of which would really give it the monopoly status it seems destined for.

Unfortunately, Google can't win here. Any little thing it does to boost its business will be scrutinized and seen as an effort to expand its monopoly from search to the entire Internet.

The WSJ's piece is the latest example; taking a known plan about Google desiring to use edge caching to speed Web traffic and spinning it into a clandestine plan to hijack the Internet and squash startups.

If we've learned anything from Microsoft's adventures in the desktop operating system hegemony, once a monopolist always a monopolist. Google is heading down that path, notwithstanding confused stories from the WSJ and quick denials by Whitt and Co.

It can't win. |

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