Google has been caught red-handed negotiating deals with ISPs to host servers inside the building, just like Akamai does. The semi-technical press thinks this is some sort of a game-changing event:
The celebrated openness of the Internet — network providers are not supposed to give preferential treatment to any traffic — is quietly losing powerful defenders.
Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.
At risk is a principal [sic] known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same — nobody is supposed to jump the line.
Oh my goodness, where do I begin? Google already has a fast lane to most Internet users today thanks to their network of mega-data centers around the world, which I’ve written and spoken about at some length. These systems are wired directly to public Internet exchange points in high population areas and effectively move Google’s traffic to a higher priority than all but three competing routes: Akamai’s servers hosted inside ISP premises, Limelight’s private network wired directly to ISP networks, and the ISPs’ own content. Google’s desire to host servers (or routers, it could be either) inside ISP networks is a move calculated to improve on the ROI on the existing network of server farms and to blunt the Akamai advantage. It makes more sense to wire directly to the ISPs through private arrangements than to stress the public Internet infrastructure any further.
One thing that this deal doesn’t do is change the Internet infrastructure. Arrangements like this already exist, predating the kerfuffle over fast lanes created out of thin air by public interest advocates three years ago.
The Internet is not a network, it’s a complex set of agreements to interconnect independently owned and operated networks in various ways. There is no standard agreement, and this story doesn’t report on a new one. What it simply shows is that money buys performance in the technology space, and that should come as no surprise to anyone. Google has to do something like this to avoid being clobbered by ISP-friendly P4P as well as by Akamai.
Yes, Virginia, network neutrality is a myth, and it always has been.
UPDATE: Google’s response to the WSJ piece does nothing but muddy the waters. Net Neutrality advocates have insisted on a wall of separation between content and infrastructure, and this deal, if it happens, brings down that wall. I’m happy with that, because I don’t see the prohibition on expedited delivery as a good thing. But Google should admit they’ve come around to my way of thinking about the Internet instead of insisting nothing has changed. See my write-up in The Register.
UPDATE 2: The spin that Google’s supporters are producing around this issue is a marvel for those of us who appreciate the major league curveball. This subtle piece of nuanced distinction by Dave Isenberg deserves some sort of prize:
The concern of Network Neutrality advocates is not with access but with delivery. The fear is that Internet connection providers would charge for expedited delivery of certain content to the end user, and in so doing would put themselves in the business of classifying which content gets enhanced delivery.
Wow. Caching speeds up delivery, otherwise there would be no reason to do it. Google has paid for expedited delivery of its content in effect, regardless of the spin. What counts is bits on the wire, and Google is out to ensure theirs are better situated than yours are.
Don’t be fooled by the spin, this is a distinction without a difference.