Net Neutrality Advocates Rally To Google's Defense

An article in today's Wall Street Journal accusing Google of betraying net neutrality principles has left many people scratching their heads.

The article discusses Google's OpenEdge initiative, which the Journal described as placing Google services within Internet service providers' networks. Doing so would speed delivery of YouTube clips and other content.

Google confirms that it envisions "co-locating" caching servers within network operator's facilities, but says that doing so will ease traffic throughout the network. "This reduces the provider's bandwidth costs since the same video wouldn't have to be transmitted multiple times," Google's Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel, writes.

What's more, Whitt adds, Google's deals with network operators wouldn't be exclusive, meaning that any other companies that wanted/could afford to forge similar deals would be able to.



The Journal took OpenEdge to signify that Google endorses the view that companies such as itself should be able to pay for faster service. But net neutrality advocates say that arranging for faster service isn't inconsistent with neutrality principles, provided all companies have the equal opportunity to pay for such service.

Lawrence Lessig, also quoted in the article -- and who also took to his blog to clarify his position -- writes that he doesn't believe that paying for speed in itself violates neutrality principles. "The regulation I call for is a 'MFN' requirement -- that everyone has the right to the rates of the most favored nation," he wrote.

Other net neutrality advocates, like the Open Internet Coalition, quickly denounced the Journal article and rallied to Google's defense. Markham Erickson, executive director of the group, says that the type of plan that Google is considering "is an accepted, legal and beneficial step by network operators to improve access of content by consumers."

One of the clearest examples to date of a net neutrality violation occurred when Comcast secretly slowed peer-to-peer traffic. There, Comcast didn't give anyone -- consumers or peer-to-peer companies -- notice of its plan in advance, and there was no possibility of anyone paying extra for faster delivery.

Instead, the company decided to degrade one particular type of content on purely arbitrary grounds. It's hard to see how OpenEdge has much in common with that type of network management practice.

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