Getting it wrong on Net Neutrality

There was an interesting piece by Cody Willard from the thestreet.com posted the other day about the cracks forming in Google. I feel the article managed to get Google’s stance on Net Neutrality completely wrong. I do agree though that there are some cracks forming in Google’s reputation. The general public is starting to realize how much data that Google collects. As long as you trust them then that’s ok, but what if they lose that trust, it’s hard to take the data back at that point. Google has shown that they’re not infallible with a couple of devastating security holes in the last couple weeks. The holes were quickly fixed, but these little chips could be just the start. The fact that even the mighty Google can screw up sometimes is going to bring people to reexamine the trust they put into that company.

The final point of the article from thestreet.com though claimed that Google was evil for supporting Net Neutrality. I found it rather difficult to fathom how someone could make this claim. You can either claim that the telecoms are evil for trying to subvert the networks, where evil here is used to mean that they are substituting the publics long term gain for their own short term gain. However, to claim that Google is evil for trying to stop the telecoms makes the assumption that the telecoms are doing good. I have yet to see anyone argue that a tiered internet is good for anyone other than the telecoms.

My reasoning on net neutrality:

Well to start at the beginning, the core of the problem is that the internet was designed to be a robust way to move data from point A to point B, but never made any guarantees about when it would arrive, the End-to-End principle. All sorts of fail-safes and checks were put in to make sure that if a router went down that traffic would automatically find other routes to get to its destination. This allowed the internet to grow in the face of different companies creating the backbone with different hardware and also various hardware failures and back-hoes causing interruptions. For most people everything worked great, sometimes pages would load a bit slowly or your email would take 30s instead of 5s but it would all get there.

The problem became noticeable when technology started to come along that required that the data get to the destination within a certain time frame, ie. voice and video. When you have enough excess bandwidth capacity it’s not a problem, but when network links get up around 80% full, you start to see a lot of collisions where packets run over each other and need to be resent. This is horrible for these time sensitive applications because it creates a delay.

The next issue that contributed to this problem is that with network links sold to consumers the telecoms modeled usage off of past behavior where consumers were checking a little email and browsing a few web pages. With these models in mind, they’re able to oversell their networks and maximize their profits. If you’ve ever used a cable modem in an area that’s been oversold in the evening after work it can be incredibly painful. Also, if you read the fine print in most of these contracts, just because you bought a 6Mb/s connection doesn’t mean that you can use it and if you do use it you’re going to get kicked off of the network as an abuser. With the rise of Vonage, Youtube, and other wildly popular sites the average usage of the consumer was skyrocketing and people were beginning to notice that they weren’t getting what they were sold.

So at this point there are two solutions for the telecoms, increase capacity and give the consumer what you told them they were supposed to get or tweak the network so that for certain types of traffic you could make the guarantee that it would get there on time. One is expensive while the other gives you a way to charge extra. It’s completely obvious why the telecoms chose the way they did as a public company. The problem is what are the implications for users of the internet as a whole?

If the telecoms have a special value added network where they are making all of their profit what is their motivation to make any expenditures to improve the standard network? And why with their past history of hyping improvements and then not following through would we believe them if they told us they would maintain the old network? Wouldn’t this just lead to a balkanization of the internet? Would the democratizing force of the internet be destroyed as the old internet rusts away and content is controlled on the new?

I would argue that the answer to all of those questions is yes. The internet has become a critical piece of infrastructure that needs to be kept open for the long term good of businesses and consumers and we have seen that amazing things can come out of an open internet. Things that no one at this point in time can even imagine.

“Google says it’s acting in the best interest of consumers and end users. Why the use of force then? A truly “non-evil” company would have no interest in using governmental force to stop attempts at innovation.”

Here you are claiming that Google is evil for lobbying, yet Verizon is just innovating, even though Verizon’s lobbying effort is much more extensive and Verizon’s innovation is really just attempts to sidestep building out their network.

“Google’s evil here stems from the fact that it knows it has won this version of the Internet and wants the government to make sure it stays on top.”

This just doesn’t even make sense. Google and Verizon aren’t in the same business and don’t compete. Google is a customer of the telecoms. They pay huge monthly bandwidth bills to the telecoms for the right to use their network. Google is not getting anything for free. If Verizon doesn’t feel that they’re being fairly compensated for services that they’re supplying then why don’t they raise their rates? The issue is again that Bandwidth is Bandwidth and there is no value add there.

I would argue that Verizon may be jealous of Google’s ability to charge for what it provides, but jealousy doesn’t mean that you’re going to get your way. The reality that Verizon has to deal with, is that no one cares which network they use as long as they can get to the end points that they care about, hence Google has pricing power while Verizon does not.