Network neutrality proponents are savaging a Dec. 15 Wall Street Journal report that search giant Google is abandoning its longtime pro-network-neutrality stance in order to facilitate its own plan to create a fast lane for itself.
According to the story, Google is seeking preferential treatment from broadband providers by seeking to place Google servers directly in network service providers’ data centers to speed delivery of its Web services, particularly video, to consumers. The story suggests Google wants to jump the queue over other content providers.
“One major cable operator in talks with Google says it has been reluctant so far to strike a deal because of concern it might violate Federal Communications Commission guidelines on network neutrality,” the Wall Street Journal story stated.
In August 2005, the FCC declared that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice, and plug in and run legal devices of their choice. The FCC also said consumers have a right for there to be competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
Google was first out of the box blasting the Wall Street Journal story, characterizing the report as “confused” about the way in which the open Internet works.
“Broadband providers-the on-ramps to the Internet-should not be allowed to prioritize traffic based on the source, ownership or destination of the content,” Richard Whitt, a Google telecom lawyer, said in a Dec. 15 post to the company’s blog. “Broadband providers should have the flexibility to employ network upgrades, such as edge caching. However, they shouldn’t be able to leverage their unilateral control over consumers’ broadband connections to hamper user choice, competition and innovation.”
Whitt added, “Our commitment to that principle of net neutrality remains as strong as ever.”
Google contends that edge caching is a common practice. “Companies like Akamai, Limelight [Networks] and Amazon’s CloudFront provide local caching services, and broadband providers typically utilize caching as part of what are known as content distribution networks. Google and many other Internet companies also deploy servers of their own around the world,” Whitt wrote.
Whitt noted that Google is not seeking exclusive edge caching deals with broadband providers and that other content providers are free to make the same deal.
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, which has supported network neutrality since before Google joined the parade, called the Wall Street Journal story a piece of “unfortunate reporting.”
“The practices described in the article, known as ‘caching,’ are commonplace and have been for many years. Caching in no way is a part of the net neutrality issue of preventing discrimination by telephone and cable companies,” Sohn said in a Dec. 15 statement. “The anonymous cable executive quoted in the story should know better than to conflate a story about irrelevant issues and old news into a story for a prominent publication. We in the public interest community are pleased to be working closely with our friends in industry, and those friends include Google.”
Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, another longtime network neutrality supporter, also cast doubts about the story.
“We are skeptical that Google is truly engaged in a nefarious plot to undermine the open Internet-the company denies it, and we look forward to all of the facts coming to light,” Silver said in a Dec. 15 statement.
He warned, however, “If Google or any other company is planning to secretly violate net neutrality, they will find themselves facing the same vigorous opposition from the Internet community [as] against those-like Comcast and AT&T-that have threatened the open Internet.”
The FCC found cable giant Comcast guilty Aug. 1 of secretly degrading network traffic. In a 3-2 vote, the FCC ordered Comcast to stop blocking traffic, disclose to the FCC the full extent of its traffic practices and keep the public informed of its future network management plans.
The FCC said Comcast violated the agency’s Internet policy when it blocked peer-to-peer traffic by BitTorrent. The agency also found that Comcast misled consumers when it did not properly disclose its P2P policy.
Comcast has appealed the decision, contending that its practices are reasonable under FCC network management rules and that even if the FCC found Comcast in violation, the agency has no authority to enforce its network neutrality principles.
“We filed this appeal in order to protect our legal rights and to challenge the basis on which the Commission found that Comcast violated federal policy in the absence of pre-existing legally enforceable standards or rules,” Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said in a Sept. 4 statement.
“Net neutrality is much bigger than Google. It is bigger than any one company. It is about every Internet user and the power to choose what to do online without permission or influence from Google, Comcast, the government or anyone else,” Silver said. “The simple value of a user-controlled Internet is why net neutrality is not going away.”