Google’s Net Necessities

A lot written  following from The Wall Street Journal’s article on Google and net neutrality: Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web. John Battelle for example, recalls his interview with Vint Cerf, Google’s net-neutrality guru and compares this with the WSJ news.  Over at CNET Declan McCullagh ponders the significance and the PoV:

…if there’s a bit of confusion here, that’s to be expected. Much like pornography is in the eye of the beholder, so is Net neutrality.

Google had lobbied vigorously against any attempt to create a ‘2-tier system’. The idea is that those with money, Google for example, might pay for a fast-track for their data. This concept stirred up fierce controversy, the likes of which have not been seen since a similar idea was proposed for Oxford Street pedestrians.

Google’s legal-beagle Richard Witt has called the Journal’s article ‘confused’ and explains that Google don’t really understand how the net works. It’s all about caching and colocation says Witt. Sympathy and credulity for such sentiments are voiced by industry sage Om Malik who nevertheless expresses concern (and mixed metaphors) over the possible outcome of any such move:

…this move will be like swinging the tiger by the tail. The carriers will start with a fraction of the revenues, but over a period of time they can increase their cut, and Google would have no way to put the genie back in the bottle.

Malik closes by admitting that while Google has noble do-no-evil principles, ultimately it’s just like any other monopoly. I tend to agree somewhat, but I’d also note this monopoly needs to contend with one salient fact namely that what it may or may not be toying with, is actually a minor fact, when compared to the network itself. They’re not in theory at least if the WSJ is right, proposing to alter traffic itself, just to slip ISPs a back or fore hander to speed up their own traffic.

When a monopoly starts to even look like it’s thinking of rigging the tills augmenting revenue streams, then its competitors in the wider market tend to start to profess their own innocence and at times, politick disinterest. Take for example Microsoft who the WSJ notes:

…appealed to Congress to save network neutrality just two years ago, has changed its position completely. “Network neutrality is a policy avenue the company is no longer pursuing,” Microsoft said in a statement. The Redmond, Wash., software giant now favors legislation to allow network operators to offer different tiers of service to content companies.

Whichever way this transpires, all in all though it’s small beer. Why so? Well if Google go ahead then they commodify traffic, which is a salient trait of all market relations and to which the internet is no escapee. But this is tinkering with the traffic. And nothing like say altering the shape and traffic of the network itself. Wouldn’t that be like allowing cycle louts onto the pavement?…

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