Monday, December 15, 2008
Net neutrality and the benefits of caching
One of the first posts I wrote for this blog last summer tried to define what we at Google mean when we talk about the concept of net neutrality.
Broadband providers -- the on-ramps to the Internet -- should not be allowed to prioritize traffic based on the source, ownership or destination of the content. As I noted in that post, broadband providers should have the flexibility to employ network upgrades, such as edge caching. However, they shouldn't be able to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' broadband connections to hamper user choice, competition, and innovation. Our commitment to that principle of net neutrality remains as strong as ever.
Some critics have questioned whether improving Web performance through edge caching -- temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to end users -- violates the concept of network neutrality. As I said last summer, this myth -- which unfortunately underlies a confused story in Monday's Wall Street Journal -- is based on a misunderstanding of the way in which the open Internet works.
Edge caching is a common practice used by ISPs and application and content providers in order to improve the end user experience. Companies like Akamai, Limelight, and Amazon's Cloudfront provide local caching services, and broadband providers typically utilize caching as part of what are known as content distribution networks (CDNs). Google and many other Internet companies also deploy servers of their own around the world.
By bringing YouTube videos and other content physically closer to end users, site operators can improve page load times for videos and Web pages. In addition, 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.
We've always said that broadband providers can engage in activities like colocation and caching, so long as they do so on a non-discriminatory basis.
All of Google's colocation agreements with ISPs -- which we've done through projects called OpenEdge and Google Global Cache -- are non-exclusive, meaning any other entity could employ similar arrangements. In contrast, if broadband providers were to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' connections and offer colocation or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion, that would threaten the open Internet and the innovation it enables. Despite the hyperbolic tone and confused claims in Monday's Journal story, I want to be perfectly clear about one thing: Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open.
P.S.: The Journal story also quoted me as characterizing President-elect Obama's net neutrality policies as "much less specific than they were before." For what it's worth, I don't recall making such a comment, and it seems especially odd given that President-elect Obama's supportive stance on network neutrality hasn't changed at all.
Update: Larry Lessig, Save the Internet, Public Knowledge, David Isenberg, Wired and others all found fault with today's piece too.