Update-15 Dec – Google is denying this effort violates network neutrality principles. Their strategy is more akin to network caching, which they argue is a common practice. In their view, the Wall Street Journal is distorting the facts on this issue, and they remain committed to network neutrality. Original 14 Dec. post follows
Google is reigniting the network neutrality debate by pursuing direct deals with service providers for a “fast lane” on the Internet. Google’s plan, known as OpenEdge internally, is to negotiate direct deals with phone and cable companies for exclusive faster access to Google content on their networks. It flies in the face of network neutrality, which basically argues (among other things) that no content should receive special treatment in terms of its access by end consumers. The Wall Street Journal (subs. required) was first to report on Google’s OpenEdge plan.
It’s a complicated debate which also carries huge competitive implications. If carriers are able to negotiate exclusive content deals for Internet content, they could then use it to their competitive advantage. Increasingly, service providers also own significant content assets of their own, particularly cable companies. Network neutrality proponents fear these vertically integrated service providers could make their own content more easily available, while restricting access to competitor’s content. Proponents also fear that a very different Internet than today’s version could emerge, where only deep pocketed Internet destinations like Google could afford to strike these types of access deals, thus severely restricting access to lesser known firms. Such a scenario would limit choice for consumers they fear. Opponents to net neutrality argue that building access to the Internet costs a lot of money, and content owners like Google aren’t paying their fair share. Service providers are stuck with the bill, while companies like Google unfairly profit from their efforts, they argue. Regardless of the debate, Google is pursuing direct deals with both phone and cable companies for a “Google Internet fast lane.” Google’s moves in this area are somewhat ironic. They have historically been a big advocate of network neutrality.