Karl and Harold on the Google/WSJ Dustup

I still don’t think we’ve heard the last of the Google/Wall Street Journal dustup over the dazed and confused story the Journal put out Monday that supposedly detailed Google’s departure from its net neutrality ideals but in reality didn’t seem to understand what topic it was even talking about.

My late-night takeaway is that while Google seems to have won the overall perception battle on this one, the swell of derisive swipes at Google from many corners shows there’s a lot of latent Google-hate out there that may have very little to do with network neutrality and a lot more to do with a simple distaste for the actions of the at-times overly proud and overly preachy Googlers.

Such are the trappings of being the big dog: Everyone wants to nip at your heels. More on this topic later.

For now, two good reads that capture the main points of the day’s discussion: Karl Bode at DSL Reports paints a very good picture of how and why the WSJ got things so wrong; and Harold Feld on why net neutrality isn’t simple, why it’s not all about Google, and why all that matters — a lot.

One Response to “Karl and Harold on the Google/WSJ Dustup”

  1. Rob Frieden Says:

    Month after month the Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”) pursues what appears to be a deliberate strategy of misinformation on the issue of Network Neutrality. The latest installment appears in Dec. 23rd editorial written by Gordon Crovitz who attempts to equate Google’s enhanced use of edge caching as evidence that the entire matter of Network Neutrality has been much ado about nothing. See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122990349014725127.html.

    Mr. Crovitz starts by referring to a widely discredited WSJ article that reported on Google’s edge caching strategy and implied that such a strategy would violate Network Neutrality principles and evidences Google’s abandonment of advocacy for such principles. I would think the WSJ would applaud Google’s apparent change of heart from free rider of Internet resources to conscientious underwriter of the links that take content from the Googleplex to various servers closer to people making Internet searches. Instead Mr. Crovitz reiterates the red herring that companies like Goggle, Yahoo and Microsoft (key Network Neutrality advocates) “don’t want to have to pay tolls to the companies that provide the Web infrastructure.”

    Does anyone see the irony in this statement? Goggle intends on paying more than it previously has paid for what I call “better than best efforts” routing of traffic. The existing traffic routing (“peering”) arrangements of the Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) that carry Google’s traffic on a plain vanilla, “best efforts” basis do not include premium service. So Google will have to pay for superior distribution of the most commonly searched for results, just as CBS pays for ISPs to deliver “mission critical” bits corresponding to webcasts of March Madness college tournament basketball games.

    Previously Google was pilloried for allegedly not paying for any access to consumers, a falsity that many believed despite the fact that Goggle does pay its ISPs and apparently has expressed a willingness to pay more. By the way, the downstream ISPs that also handle Google traffic also have received payment, directly from subscribers and also through barter agreements where ISPs offer access to their networks in lieu of direct payments.

    As I have written in my blog, (see http://telefrieden.blogspot.com/2008/12/edge-caching-and-better-than-best.html) premium routing of content does not violate my sense of Network Neutrality, provided ISPs offer such service in a transparent and nondiscriminatory manner. My sense of Network Neutrality would only require ISPs not to drop packets deliberately as a ruse to force either end users or content providers to trade up in service, or to so partition their networks to all but guarantee that plain vanilla, regular service (best efforts routing ) becomes inadequate.

    No fair minded advocate for Network Neutrality has rejected reasonable efforts by ISPs to manage their networks, nor does Network Neutrality somehow convert ISPs from information service providers into common carrier, public utilities as Mr. Crovitz alleges. He also makes the bold assertion that the United States’ poor standing in terms of broadband access directly results from Network Neutrality advocacy that creates disincentives for ISPs to invest in infrastructure.

    Surely Mr. Crovitz knows that the FCC does not treat ISPs as telephone companies. Likewise neither the FCC nor any reasonable interpretation of its Internet policies foreclose ISPs from providing tiered services, or from accruing triple digit rates of return for Internet access, a reality some of the WSJ’s buy side stock analysts could confirm.

    Perhaps Mr. Crovitz sees common carrier regulation in the manner in which the FCC responded to complaints about how Comcast throttled peer-to-peer traffic. Of course the FCC did not mandate common carrier nondiscrimination. The Commission did state that an ISP cannot use software that deliberately drops packets and thwarts delivery of traffic all the time without regard to whether actual network congestion exists. It strains credulity to characterize Comcast’s tactics as nothing more than ensuring that non peer-to-peer traffic “could move more smoothly,” unless Mr. Crovitz has some new evidence to prove that if Comcast did not resort to traffic throttling its network would perform in an inferior manner.

    Lastly Mr. Crovitz appears to dismiss the Network Neutrality as nothing more than a tactical strategy by major content providers to avoid having to pay their fair share of the costs ISPs incur to provide Internet access. Like other opponents of Network Neutrality he ignores the major investments Google and other content providers have made to create compelling content which provide reasons for consumers to pay sizeable rates for Internet access. He conveniently ignores that the ISPs providing content delivery offer reciprocal access in lieu of cash payment, or perhaps he has bought into the notion that somehow Goggle and other content providers have managed to cheat ISPs of the right to charge both end user subscribers and upstream content providers.

    Unlike telephone networks, the Internet seamlessly combines telecommunications bit delivery with access to content. Monthly Internet access subscriptions amply compensate ISPs and one would think Mr. Crovitz and the WSJ would use their bully pulpit to praise Google and others for providing new revenue streams for incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Leave a Reply