Monday, December 15, 2008

WSJ on Google and Net Neutrality - DEVELOPING



I have done the only sensible thing and put up a Drudge siren. It's appropriate given the level of research and care that went into today's Wall Street Journal article claiming, "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."

Suffice to say, the authors got it fundamentally wrong. They failed to understand basic networking concepts like colocation versus discrimination. Richard Whitt (full disclosure: my old boss and co-author of a forthcoming paper) wrote a charitable but biting reply. The best summary I've seen so far is actually this compendium of quotes: OMG! WSJ net-neutrality own-goal....

I'll keep updating this post as the brawl unfolds. Suffice to say, if you're looking for evidence of the mainstream press under-performing compared to the blog-o-sphere-o-pedia-space... look no further. WSJ has become Drudge, and the blogs are actually getting the story right.

And with that, all I can say is DEVELOPING...

  • At 12:49pm, the WSJ posts "Discussing Net Neutrality" which notes, "Today’s Journal story on Google's plans to develop a fast track for its own content has certainly gotten a rise out of the blogosphere." Commenters, including Dan Gillmor, ask them why they aren't retracting or correcting the story.
  • At 4:23pm, another WSJ post, "What's Edge Caching?," pulls quotes from blogs describing edge caching, generally making the case that although it is a common and well-known practice, this case is different.
Comedy Central's Indecision 2008: Obama Reassures Nerds on Net Neutrality:

Cheeto-stained keyboards all over the country were burning up this morning after The Wall Street Journal reported that President-elect Obama was flip-flopping on his pro-net-neutrality position and Google was in secret talks to buy preferential treatment for their content from service providers. But as it turns out, WSJ were just ObamaOpposesNetNeutralityRolling us.

And the surge of criticism:

4 comments:

Small Webmaster said...

The WSJ story isn't a false alarm. You just have to take off the doctrinaire glasses of the "network neutrality" crowd, who are myopically focused on the pipes, to see why.

Think about this for a second. Google is likely to be able to place an edge cache at the site of any ISP it wants. Probably for free, because Google is big. Google, YouTube, and its related services consume SO much bandwidth and are SO wildly popular that no ISP would say no. But could the ISP afford to allow just ANYONE to get free hosting by putting a cache at their sites? Doubtful. Caches take up space and power and require access for maintenance. And of course, would-be competitors won't be able to buy space on Google's private edge caches. So, in what way is this neutral? Google can get its servers into places where CoolNewInternetGarageStartup.com can't. Google is still getting preferential access to infrastructure -- it's just co-location space instead of pipes.

Steve Schultze said...

@Small Webmaster
The story isn't an "alarm" of any sort, given the fact that everyone involved in telecommunications policy has been well-aware of the practice for a long time.

Caching has been debated and approved across the board because it is sensible and non-discriminatory. It is also taking place in a competitive backbone market, compared to the last-mile duopoloy.

Do some big companies attain faster delivery through expensive caching services? Of course! They also benefit from buying faster servers and hiring smarter system administrators.

Network neutrality is about broadband non-discrimination, not backbone affirmative action. I think that is the most reasonable policy position -- a minimal intervention that seeks to remedy a well-documented market failure without regulating in an over-broad way.

Opponents will do two things: 1) claim that neutrality is "vague" to the point that this straw man encompasses more than it does and 2) that practices like edge caching are destructive in the same way as network discrimination.

Ultimately, these are debates that have already been had. The travesty of the WSJ article is that it completely failed to recognize this.

Small Webmaster said...

As I said, you are myopic. What Google is doing gives it a "fast lane" that I can't have and preferred access to infrastructure. If you really believe that network neutrality is about not letting big companies put little guys in the slow lane, you had better believe that this is a network neutrality issue. Unless of course you are just an apologist for Google.

Steve Schultze said...

Ha, this is fun. As *I* said, of course caching gives the big guys faster service. The differences are that a) it doesn't slow down the absolute speed of others, b) it is a decision made by interconnection peers and not the last-mile provider, c) it takes place in a competitive marketplace, and d) in this case it was being done in an especially non-exclusive way.

I could concede that the phrase "network neutrality" without any context could be applied to caching, but the reality is that the very lengthy history of scholarship and regulatory debate has rejected this definition. At one point Tim Wu, coiner of the phrase, admitted that "broadband discrimination" could have been a better phrase... of course that's why he titled his initial paper "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination." I thought that today's CDT blog post re-explained the caching/neutrality tremendously well. Trying to apply the same analysis, or the same set of regulations, to the core of the internet is a dumb idea that ignores the fact that the core has never been "neutral" in this sense. This is one area where Richard Bennett is actually correct.

Perhaps I should be more patient, given that this latest flap appears to have attracted new people to the debate who don't know the history. The WSJ bears the blame for actively leading people astray.