Net Neutrality Debate: That's Entertainment!


The Precursor Group has spiced up an otherwise fairly dull end of the week by releasing a report that says Google uses 21 times more bandwidth than it shells out for.


While the idea that Google traffic represents a high percentage of the bandwidth used on the Internet is pretty much a no-brainer, the Precursor numbers-in a study written by President Scott Cleland-is interesting.


The report said Google is on pace to account for 16.5 percent of traffic this year, with those numbers set to grow to 25 percent next year and 27 percent in 2010. Much of that is driven by YouTube downloads and spiders and bots that copy pages for Google search initiatives.


Google, Precursor says, paid $344 million to fund the Internet. That is 0.8 percent of U.S. consumers' payment of $44 billion. Thus, the firm says, Google's use outstripped its contribution by 21 percent.


Bloggers and other Internet mavens love stuff like this. Cleland's study was quickly decried in a number of places. Techdirt, for instance, quickly shot the messenger, in a story with a subhead that read: "From the Bad Math Dept." The post said that Cleland is paid a lot by the telephone companies to come to just that sort of conclusion and that he "has become sort of a joke in DC circles."


More substantively, the post says that Cleland has no way to know what Google is paying for its bandwidth and that people willingly pay to reach Google's servers. Further, saying the company should pay for end-to-end capacity for its viewers makes no sense. Finally, the post, which links to others that counter Cleland's argument, says that if Google is being undercharged, it is the fault of bad pricing by the telcos, not any bad faith by Google. An assortment of other reactions are collected at Computerworld.


Google, of course, had a lot to say about the Precursor report. Cleland leads an anti-Net neutrality group, and Google's D.C. lawyer called what he does "payola punditry." The piece points out that market share is not synonymous with traffic share. Since YouTube's video quality is inferior to other services, it uses less bandwidth on an apples-to-apples basis than some other services.


The fun debates-whether Google is a tight-fisted bandwidth hog or responsible corporate citizen, and whether Scott Cleland is a ground-breaking analyst or a hack-really lead to drier, more important topics of Net neutrality and who will control the Internet in the future. Vital decisions will be made during the next several years that will determine the nature of the Internet and, in the process, control the destination of trillions of dollars.


Clearly, this is a hot issue as the new administration takes over. Besides the general change in governing philosophy, the new leadership will fill many positions, including leadership of the many departments and bureaus that will have great impact on what laws and rules are promulgated and, once on the books, how they are enforced. Thus, it is not surprising that the time between the election and the inauguration is filled with entertaining dustups.