Google turns on net neutrality (not!)

The Wall Street Journal says Google has a plan to colo inside of the big ISPs. Does that mean Google is subverting its support for net neutrality? Does it expose them as cynical corporate evil-doers? Hardly.

Updated 11:00 PST: Added Enderle quote

Has Google -- and other supporters -- turned its back on it net neutrality? The Wall Street Journal charges no less in an article today: Colo tower

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. . . . At risk is a principle known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same -- nobody is supposed to jump the line.

But Google's Washington telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt explains that what the WSJ reporters are talking about is a deal between Google and the big ISPs to place its edge servers directly within providers' facilities --- a straight-forward colocation plan.

All of Google's colocation agreements with ISPs -- which we've done through projects called OpenEdge and Google Global Cache -- are non-exclusive, meaning any other entity could employ similar arrangements. Also, none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic. In contrast, if broadband providers were to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' connections and offer colocation or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion, that would threaten the open Internet and the innovation it enables.

Edge caching is manifestly not what AT&T was talking about two years ago when the net neutrality debate exploded. CEO Ed Whittaker said, "Companies like Google are getting a free ride and are not paying me for their use of my broadband channels to my customers.”

The idea was that AT&T could dramatically improve broadband infrastructure through investments but that Google needed to help pay for those investments by paying a surcharge for access to the faster parts of the network. That was the violation of net neurality everyone was concerned about. Google's edge servers are simply an amping-up of CDN strategies already in wide place to cache content at the ISP.

One does have to be mindful, however, that Google is already caching the net. It seems to me that what will be on those edge servers is not just YouTube but most of Net itself. Increasingly, the question will be: Do you want to go over the net, or via Google's personal CDN? When you choose Google, how much more control and monetization options is Google gaining?

Update: Rob Enderle sends these thoughts on the question of how this deal affects Google's relative power:

The Obama Administration will need to pick their battles because the country doesn’t have anywhere near enough money or resources to fight all of them. I think Net Neutrality will likely come well after the war, education, the economy, and eliminating crooked politicians. So while the initial intent of the Google move is not truly in violation Net Neutrality it does provide Google with a benefit not widely shared and does put them in a favorable position both on the network and in terms of negotiating power for more.

So it isn’t an issue of what the caching servers do but the increased power that this would give Google and the opportunity to misuse this power. In a time when oversight in this area will likely decline, that is a dangerous mix and large companies, even though they that have policies against certain behavior, do mis-act and there should be controls in place to assure Google, and others following, don’t.

Power corrupts, and Google is, step by step, getting an impressive amount of it.

I really don't know the answer to those questions, but to the degree the concern exists, it's not a net neutrality concern, and there doesn't seem to be anything particularly anticompetitive about it, in that it doesn't

require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic.

Strike it up to some uninformed reporting or an attempt to turn "an otherwise peaceful Monday in the generally slow holiday time [into the] scene of a flame-fest resulting in an exchange of heated comments far and wide," as Ars Technica puts it.

But, no, there's more. Stay tuned.