Noah J Nelson on Thursday, May. 22nd
At first glance it sure looks like Google launched a serious net neutrality friendly attack on Internet Service Providers like Comcast today.
The current battle over net neutrality, you;ll remember, stems from a desire on the part of certain ISPs to make content providers like Netflix pay for better access to what’s known as the “last mile” wires into consumer’s homes. Comcast, Verizon and their ilk are crying over the bandwidth costs and then cutting “paid peerage” deals to give better access to popular services.
Google, in the form of its own last mile ISP Google Fiber, called foul.
On the Google Fiber blog the company explained how streaming video gets stuck in online traffic jams—which is what causes that obnoxious buffering—and then laid out what they do differently:
So that your video doesn’t get caught up in this possible congestion, we invite content providers to hook up their networks directly to ours. This is called ‘peering,’ and it gives you a more direct connection to the content that you want.
We have also worked with services like Netflix so that they can ‘colocate’ their equipment in our Fiber facilities. What does that mean for you? Usually, when you go to Netflix and click on the video that you want to watch, your request needs to travel to and from the closest Netflix data center, which might be a roundtrip of hundreds or thousands of miles. Instead, Netflix has placed their own servers within our facilities (in the same place where we keep our own video-on-demand content). Because the servers are closer to where you live, your content will get to you faster and should be a higher quality.
We give companies like Netflix and Akamai free access to space and power in our facilities and they provide their own content servers. We don’t make money from peering or colocation; since people usually only stream one video at a time, video traffic doesn’t bog down or change the way we manage our network in any meaningful way — so why not help enable it?
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a purely altruistic move on the search giant’s part, however.
As The Verge’s Ben Popper points out, Google has more than one dog in this fight:
Google is attempting to put the lie to this line of reasoning from the ISPs. Agreeing to free peering, the company says in its post, is the best solution for all parties involved, both economically and in terms of quality. Of course, it’s in Google’s interest to say that. Remember, it is also one of the biggest content providers on the internet. And as analyst Dan Rayburn pointed out yesterday, Google, along with big companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, all have multiple paid interconnect agreements with the big ISPs. If Google could convince the FCC that this kind of paid peering should be illegal under net neutrality, it would no doubt save itself far more money than it currently spends providing the same services on the fiber side.
A world where paid peering was illegal would clearly benefit the owner of YouTube, unless they found themselves inundated with endless competitors with the right to co-locate their servers. Which would create an interesting regulatory quandary: who would determine who qualifies for peerage? How would a startup get into that club?
On one level the current battle over net neutrality is a fight between ISPs and content providers to determine who has the power over the Internet as a whole. Much like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice no matter who wins, we lose.
More critical to preserving the democratic powers of the digital age may be the continuing development of what is being called the “Second-Curve Internet,” currently a thought experiment of the Institute for the Future that seeks to address:
A massive dotcom data stalker economy built on mining of terabytes personal data
Ubiquitous criminal penetration of financial and identity networks, both on our devices and in the cloud
Pervasive state intruders at all levels and at every encrypted hardware and software node
The hub and spoke model of Internet connectivity we currently live with has created opportunities for bandits at the crossroads. ISPs and content providers alike get to play the role of highwaymen ripping off travelers. Of course, the current Internet is owned by those ISPs and content providers, so think of those highwaymen as sanctioned privateers.