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Google, Lessig say not throwing out net neutrality

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Google is reportedly working with service providers to cache some of its content for more rapid delivery, but the company – along with noted net neutrality advocate Lawrence Lessig, who was also drawn into the debate – said it is not abandoning a commitment to open networks.

The story that drove this tempest came from the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Google has approached providers with “a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content.”Specifically, Google asked carriers to peer with its own edge-caching devices so users would have more direct access to Google content, especially bandwidth-rich YouTube videos, a proposal dubbed “OpenEdge.”

The Journal interpreted this strategy as a move away from net neutrality principles, which advocate that all content providers are treated equally by network providers. Google lead counsel Richard Whitt said caching content doesn’t violate those precepts if done without benefitting one content provider alone.

“Google has offered to ‘colocate’ caching servers within broadband providers' own facilities; this reduces the provider's bandwidth costs since the same video wouldn't have to be transmitted multiple times,” Whitt wrote on the Google policy blog. “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.”

In particular, Whitt said that edge caching is already used in content delivery networks from Akamai, Limelight and others.

The entire argument is a timely one for several reasons. The economic downturn has both service and content providers looking closely at their expenses and requirements to generate adequate revenue to cover their cost of delivery, whether it be network capacity or broadband content and services. In addition, net neutrality is likely to be a key issue at the FCC and in the new Obama administration in 2009, possibly as part of a large discussion about national broadband strategies.

In some ways, Google appears damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The company recently took a strong hit from a consultant with anti-net neutrality and pro-carrier ties who criticized it for not paying its fair share of Internet bandwidth consumption. Paying for caching, as in the OpenEdge proposal, would theoretically help service providers reduce their bandwidth costs.

Pulled into the fray was legal expert and net neutrality advocate Lawrence Lessig, who was criticized by the Journal for “shifting gears” and saying that content providers should be able to pay for faster service.

On his blog, Lessig said he continues to believe service providers can charge for access to their networks, but they “should not be free to apply discriminatory surcharges to those who make content or applications available on the Internet.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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