So, there’s been a bit of hoopla lately about network neutrality and what the Obama administration’s position might be thereon. NN is the idea that all net traffic should be treated the same, and that telcos shouldn’t be able to prioritize some data over others — just as the phone company doesn’t prioritize party A’s calls over party B’s on the basis of some “Gold Seal” level of service sold to A. This is a good notion for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t want the increasingly diversely-interested telcos deciding to, say, detain packets of data related to competitors’ services. (The other angle is that in order to deliver better service for some packets relative to today’s mode of work, you’d basically just be degrading everything else. It’s not like they’re gonna roll out a new nationwide fiber network and charge admission to the fast lane; it’s all about putting roadblocks up.)
Anyway, one bullshit argument the telcos love to use — especially when they can have idiot sockpuppet pseudo-analysts do their shilling for them — is that a network-neutral world is why Google gets such a free ride.
Free ride, you say? What’s he talking about? Good question. The idea is that Google, since it’s not paying for the round trip of bandwidth between you and Gmail, is somehow getting a subsidy. Except — first — every Google customer is paying for bandwidth somewhere, and — second — Google of course pays for bandwidth to its data centers. Does Google pay for bandwidth at the same rate you do? Of course not, just as Nestle pays a lot less for sugar than you do:
This is stupid on so many levels I’m almost too stunned to know where to begin. Why would you ever imagine that the per-byte cost of getting upstream traffic out on a few enormous pipes would be the same as the per-byte cost on the downstream side, where the same traffic is dispersed to a bazillion consumers, each with their own broadband connection? (Nestle pays a lot less per pound than you do for sugar; I await a “research study.”) What would possess anyone to posit that there’s some inherently “fair” division of the cost of connecting end users to popular (mostly free) services anyway? Google adds value to the product ISPs sell, presumably helping them to attract customers; should Eric Schmidt be demanding compensation for the “implicit subsidy”?