Thursday, December 4, 2008
Response to phone companies' "Google bandwidth" report
Earlier this week I thought that the announcement of a broadband access "call to action" was an encouraging sign that the phone and cable carriers could set aside their differences with Internet companies and public interest groups over network neutrality, and focus on solving our nation's broadband challenges. Unfortunately, a report issued today suggests that some carriers would still rather point fingers and keep fighting old battles.
Scott Cleland over at Precursor Blog is, of course, not exactly a neutral analyst. He is paid by the phone and cable companies -- AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, and others -- to be a full time Google critic. As a result, most people here in Washington take his commentary with a heavy dose of salt.
The report that Mr. Cleland issued today -- alleging that Google is somehow unfairly consuming network bandwidth -- is just the latest in what one blogger called his "payola punditry." Not surprisingly, in his zeal to score points in the net neutrality debate, he made significant methodological and factual errors that undermine his report's conclusions.
First and foremost, there's a huge difference between your own home broadband connection, and the Internet as a whole. It's the consumers voluntarily choosing to use our applications who are actually using their own broadband bandwidth -- not Google. To say that Google somehow "uses" consumers' home broadband connections shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Internet actually works.
Second, Google already pays billions of dollars for the bandwidth and server capacity necessary to connect our data centers together, and then to carry traffic from those data centers to the Internet backbone. That is the way the Net has always operated: each side pays for their own connection to the Net.
Third, Mr. Cleland's cost estimates are overblown. For one, his attempt to correlate Google's "market share and traffic" to use of petabytes of bandwidth is misguided. The whole point of a search engine like Google's is to connect a user to some other website as quickly as possible. If Mr. Cleland's definition of "market share" includes all those other sites, and then attributes them to Google's "traffic," that mistake alone would skew the overall numbers by a huge amount.
Mr. Cleland's calculations about YouTube's impact are similarly flawed. Here he confuses "market share" with "traffic share." YouTube's share of video traffic is decidedly smaller than its market share. And typical YouTube traffic takes up far less bandwidth than downloading or streaming a movie.
Finally, the Google search bots that Mr. Cleland claims are driving bandwidth consumption don't even affect consumers' broadband connections at all -- they are searching and indexing only websites.
We don't fault Mr. Cleland for trying to do his job. But it's unfortunate that the phone and cable companies funding his work would rather launch poorly researched broadsides than help solve consumers' problems.