This Week in Net Neutrality News

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google, Lawrence Lessig and the incoming Obama administration all revised their position to no longer support a free and open internet, Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web: “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. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.”
Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington Telecom and Media Counsel quickly responded, Net neutrality and the benefits of caching
“Despite the hyperbolic tone and confused claims in Monday’s Journal story, I want to be perfectly clear about one thing: Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open.”
Larry Lessig, The made-up dramas of the Wall Street Journal: “I got off the plane from Boston to find my inbox filled with anger about an article in the Wall Street Journal. To those who were angry, I hope you will direct any anger at the Wall Street Journal after you read what follows.”
Talking Points Memo asked the Obama transition team about the President-elect’s position on net neutrality , Obama Spokesperson: His Commitment To Net Neutrality Hasn’t Wavered One Bit: “The Obama transition team is reaffirming his complete commitment to net neutrality and is disputing a much-discussed report today claiming that the President-elect is softening his support for it or shifting his position on it.”
The program that the WSJ writes about is an “edge-caching” system, where Google co-locates servers at internet service providers, so that there are fewer bottlenecks between the end users and popular data. The caching servers need only download once over the public internet and then redistribute that data multiple times over the faster connections over the “last mile” between the ISP and the end user. This is similar to what Akamai does.
It should be considered discrimination if one company is allowed to purchase access to end users while simultaneously purchasing the right to exclude or degrade the transmission of data from other competing publishers. If an ISP offers to co-locate caching servers for Microsoft or Yahoo or Netflix on an equal basis as Google, this should not be considered to violate open internet principles. If instead, an ISP offered the privilege of co-locating caching servers only to one highest bidder, then it would be discriminatory.
Does it constitute discriminatory internet service for any publisher to be able to buy more bandwidth than others? Should V.C.R. the video blogger be able to purchase a faster connection than Ed the e-mailer? If Google, Microsoft and Netflix transfer orders of magnitude more of data than Joe the blogger, should an ISP or backbone provider be prohibited from offering discounted bundles of bits to its high volume customers on an equal basis?
For Google to pursue competitive advantage for its services is a way to innovate over the open internet. Were Google to pursue these co-locating deals in a way that required its ISP partners to exclude Google’s competitors, then that could be considered non-neutral. If Google’s traffic between its central servers and edge servers were prioritized over other traffic.
More reactions:
Ed Felten, Three Flavors of Net Neutrality, “Part of the difficulty in this debate is that ‘net neutrality’ can mean different things to different people. At least three flavors of ‘net neutrality’ are identifiable among the Journal’s critics.”
David Isenberg, Bogus WSJ Story on Net Neutrality: “Net Neutrality only becomes an issue when a carrier picks and chooses which cache to supply pipes to.”
David Isenberg and his commenters discuss the net neutrality implications of some of the permutations of edge caching, What if I were wrong about edge-caching?
Timothy Lee, The Journal Misunderstands Content-Delivery Networks: “Unfortunately, the Journal seems to be confused about the contours of the network neutrality debate, and in the process it has mis-described the positions of at least two of the key players in the debate, Google and Lessig. Both were quick to clarify that their views have not changed.”
Frank Pasquale, Concurring Opinions, Frontiers of Net Neutrality: Recognizing the Bottlenecks: “Today’s WSJ article on Google’s alleged backsliding on net neutrality has spawned a lot of controversy on the web. Google has articulately defended the practices at issue in the article. But the piece does focus internet policymakers on some basic truths: there are many potential bottlenecks on the internet, and antitrust law alone cannot adequately regulate the power they confer.”