Monday, February 9, 2009

Google, Microsoft say they still support Net neutrality

Google dismisses a report that its talks with broadband providers for edge caching conflict with Net neutrality

December 15, 2008 (IDG News Service) WASHINGTON - Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. said today that they have not backed away from their support for Net neutrality principles, despite a report to the contrary.

Both companies denied much of the information contained in a Wall Street Journal story that suggested that both companies have abandoned their support for Net neutrality rules. The article reported that Google is trying to negotiate with broadband providers for an Internet fast lane for its content, apparently in conflict with its support for Net neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing content from some applications or companies.

The Google efforts described in the article -- to enter into edge-caching agreements with broadband providers -- are consistent with the company's efforts to support net neutrality, Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, wrote on the company's public policy blog. Edge caching involves the temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to the users accessing that data, and Google has offered to collocate caching servers within broadband providers' facilities, Whitt wrote.

In a blog post from June 2007, Whitt suggested that local caching would be an acceptable practice for broadband providers, under Google's view of Net neutrality. "These activities do not rely on the carrier's unilateral control over the last-mile connections to consumers, and also do not involve discriminatory intent," Whitt wrote at the time.

In Whitt's Monday blog post, he defended edge caching as an already common practice that is conducted by companies such as Akamai, Limelight and's CloudFront and is used by broadband providers to distribute Web content.

"Google and many other Internet companies also deploy servers of their own around the world," Whitt wrote. "These solutions help broadband providers by minimizing the need to send traffic outside of their networks and reducing congestion on the Internet's backbones. In fact, caching represents one type of innovative network practice encouraged by the open Internet."

Google's collocation agreements with broadband providers are nonexclusive, meaning other online companies can make the same agreements, Whitt added. "Also, none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic," he said. "In contrast, if broadband providers were to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' connections and offer collocation or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion, that would threaten the open Internet and the innovation it enables."

The Journal article also said that Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. have quietly withdrawn from a Net neutrality coalition. A Microsoft spokeswoman said there have been no recent changes.

Back in October 2006, Microsoft withdrew from the now-defunct It's Our Net coalition, during debates over a proposed merger between AT&T and BellSouth. Microsoft continues to support consumer Net neutrality rights, and it has long supported the ability of broadband providers to offer tiers of service and other enhancements, said spokeswoman Ginny Terzano.

Both Microsoft and Yahoo were members of It's Our Net but chose not to participate when in early 2007 the group morphed into the Open Internet Coalition, an organization focused on broader broadband issues, said Eric London, a spokesman for that group.

Several groups supporting Net neutrality said Google's support of local caching does not raise concerns.

Google has never been against tiered pricing, as long as broadband providers "offer the same deal to everyone else willing to pay more, although there are legitimate questions to be asked about some configurations of such schemes," Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. "The article equates mundane, beneficial caching services with potentially illegal broadband discrimination."

The push for Net neutrality is "alive and well" and includes support from Google, added Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group. "The practices described in the article, known as 'caching,' are commonplace and have been for many years," Sohn added in a statement. "Caching in no way is a part of the net neutrality issue of preventing discrimination by telephone and cable companies."

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