googlefiberEver since Google announced their move into the ISP and TV business with Google Fiber, their intentions have been well debated. Was Google seriously trying to become a regional (or maybe national) ISP? Or were they pushing an agenda with their 1 Gbps service for $70/month, in effect ‘shaming’ other ISPs for not offering comparable service? From my vantage point, the answer is yes. Google is actually doing both and their latest salvo into the traditional ISP business now focuses on interconnection and peering.

Google Interconnection and Peering
In a recent blog post, Google is taking advantage of the heightened visibility around the open Internet and network neutrality debate by explaining how they don’t use so called “paid prioritization” for content services like Netflix. Google prefers peering, where service providers exchange traffic for free.

“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,” explains Jeffrey Burgan, Director of Network Engineering for Google in the blog post.

Burgan goes on to explain how Google also uses Netflix’s Open Connect program, which places Netflix servers within Google’s data center for better Netflix quality streams. Several other ISPs have joined this program. Of course much of this open Internet debate is framed around access to Netflix and other services, or more importantly, lack of access to a smaller Netflix competitor who cannot afford  to pay. Netflix has cut what are perceived as “paid prioritization” deals with Comcast and Verizon, which are in effect, interconnection deals, which have been and will continue to be quite common across the global Internet.

Google is of course shrewdly taking advantage of this heightened debate and pointing out how their ISP operation runs differently than some (not all) other service providers. In effect, shaming the established ISP industry once again.

“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?,” says Burgan.

A Question of Scale
I’ve been in this business long enough to know that there are valid arguments to be made on both sides of this debate. Google is in a very unique position – one that I’m not sure could be replicated by any other company in the world. They are making an argument that, depending on your perspective, has some merit, but it is certainly not an apples to apples comparison with other ISPs, large or small.

I’m not certain, but I’m guessing Google has less than 100K subscribers (maybe a lot less). The network management for a network of that size does not compare to millions of subscribers across a much larger footprint. When and if Google scales to that size, it will be interesting to see what this current announced policy morphs into.

The other interesting scale question with this debate is there are hundreds of ISPs who can’t get Netflix’s attention with regards to their Open Connect program because they are so small – many of them probably comparable to Google today, in terms of number of subscribers. My guess is, they too would welcome Netflix on their network, if they could get Netflix’s attention. Google, they are not.

Google has been successful in moving the speed and capability of broadband debate through the launch of Google Fiber. Now, gig services are being launched in multiple markets and the bar for Internet speeds is rising and accelerating. That was part of Google’s plan. Shame the ISP industry into ‘moving the ball’ forward to broadband 2.0, if you will. Will they be successful with this new push?