The People’s Movement (for Google)

I did a podcast with the folks at The Technology Liberation Front on Google’s edge-caching system:

This week we saw a new kerfuffle of sorts develop over the revelation in a Monday front-page Wall Street Journal story that Google had approached major cable and phone companies and supposedly proposed to create a fast lane for its own content. What exactly is it that Google is proposing, and does it mean – as the Wall Street Journal and some others have suggested – that Google is somehow going back on their support for Net neutrality principles and regulation? More importantly, what does it all mean for the future of the Internet, network management, and consumers. That’s what we discussed on the TLF’s latest “Tech Policy Weekly” podcast.

Google’s genius at creating a citizen’s movement to boost their bottom line needs more praise, but this is a start.

One thought on “The People’s Movement (for Google)”

  1. Richard, that podcast was very instructive. Google is starting to engage in behavior that ought to rile “network neutrality” advocates — at least those that are not shills for Google.

    Network neutrality advocates — especially the most extreme ones, such as Free Press — claim that ISPs, who are primarily in the infrastructure business but sometimes provide content and services, will use their infrastructure to privilege those content and services. But Google, which started in the content and services business, is now building out infrastructure which is exclusively devoted to delivering their content. (They say that others can deploy such infrastructure, but this is akin to saying that freedom of the press is available to anyone who can afford to own one.) So, Google — though it is coming from the opposite direction — winds up in the same place: as an infrastructure owner whose infrastructure discriminates in favor of its own content.

    The result is that advocates of “network neutrality” now face three conundrums. The first is that “network neutrality” is such an ill defined bundle of issues — with so many bags hung on the side by various interest groups — that it is impossible to discuss it sensibly as one issue. To date, many people who have opposed sweeping and onerous “network neutrality” regulation — including myself — have stated that they would be willing to support a narrow definition that doesn’t include all of these “bags on the side.” (See my comments to the FCC at the link above.) But this issue threatens to add yet another item to the bundle. Even for many supporters of “network neutrality,” it’s beginning to look a little too bulky.

    What’s more, some lobbyists, especially those who are strongly aligned with Google (e.g. Free Press and Public Knowledge), have sought to dismiss “edge caching” as unrelated, because the issue is inconvenient and adding it would threaten their alliance with Google. But deep down, they know that it is actually more relevant than many other things which they’ve already opted to add to the bundle.

    Finally, the advocates of “network neutrality” — in particular, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and Media Access Project — have always claimed to be populist but now find themselves to be very much, and very obviously, in bed with corporate interests. If they break with those interests, they will likely lose the generous financial support of the corporations, such as Google, which have driven the “network neutrality” agenda from the start. But if they don’t break with those interests, they will have so obviously sold out that they will forever have compromised their integrity and public images.

    For all of these reasons, I would assert that it is time to start over — by defining goals (such as greater broadband deployment, good quality of service, and allowing innovation both by ISPs and by content and service providers) and by avoiding lumping too many diverse issues into one bundle. We should then start with the issues on which most people agree — for example, that anticompetitive conduct should be prohibited — and act only on those issues where there is a reasonable consensus. But to rush headlong into legislation — such as last year’s Dorgan-Snowe or Markey bills — would be a very bad move.

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