Search engine giant Google has been one of the most vocal of companies demanding a law enforcing network neutrality, or as Randy May at the Progress & Freedom Foundation suggests we call it, network neut* or network neutering, a far more accurate characterization. As May reports, this week, Sen. Edward Markey joined the chorus of mostly Democrats calling for legislation that would prohibit carriers from offering any premium level of bandwidth management or optimization beyond best effort. Such a law would prohibit carriers from using any pricing mechanisms to manage or optimize the quality of bandwidth hogging applications. Without them, we can look forward to huge traffic jams of data packets, ever slower-running applications, mounting frustration on everyone’s part and another round of handwringing about why broadband penetration in the U.S. is so low from the very regulators who caused the problem. Markey, no doubt, is among those inspired by Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer and, of late, Google spokesman, who’s quote has been in circulation for some time.
“Nothing less than the future of the Internet is at stake in these discussions. We must preserve neutrality in the system in order to allow the new Googles of the world, the new Yahoos, the new Amazons to form. We risk losing the Internet as catalyst for consumer choice, for economic growth, for technological innovation and for global competitiveness.”
Yet did anyone notice that when San Francisco awarded its municipal wireless contract to Google and EarthLink, a network neutrality provision was no where to be found? Neither Cerf, nor anyone from Google, climbed to the top of Nob Hill to shout, “Bell lobbyists, look ye on San Francisco and depair! We will heartily enforce network neutrality in our network! Internet Freedom Forever!” I, for one, would have settled for a simple press statement promising net neutrality in their deal with the city. But from the reporting out of San Francisco, network neutrality, soooooo critical to Internet innovation in Google’s opinion, is still a provision to be settled in “negotiation.”If net neutrality is such an imperative that Google says we need a law to guard it, why is it a point of contention in Google’s contract? Or is that Google just wants to monetize its portion of the Internet and get a free ride from everyone else? The question needs to be asked. Face it, the consumer pricing plan in San Francisco is not net neutral. Free service could end up as low as 200 Kb/s and, by some accounts, will be ad-saturated. Real broadband from Google, 1 Mb/s both ways, will cost $20. Or just look at Google’s search engine. Do you think every web site has an equal chance of being presented at the top of the list? How much does it cost to get the top spot in the “sponsored links?” How much does it cost to be in the top 10? How about neutrality in search engine placement? Cerf’s challenge could apply as much to Google as it could to the carriers. Before Google, small, low-cap sites could, if they were clever, get to the top of a search list. While Google did not introduce the idea of paying for placement, they certainly perfected it. Oddly enough, innovation wasn’t stifled. On the contrary, Google made the Web easier to use, got many more sites noticed and made a lot of money in the process. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Before we buy Google’s view of Internet regulation, let’s at least see if they agree to net neutrality in San Francisco.