Google’s Pipe Dreams

August 6, 2013

Google is becoming just another service provider.

I guess it was bound to happen. Google is finding the realities of telecom companies, and it doesn’t like it very much.

Google's pipe dreams

The world has been split nicely into two types of companies up until today: you were either a fat happy telecom company, or you were a nimble freedom fighter tagged as an OTT.

Telecom companies? They were in charge of our pipes – getting the data to us. At times, they had this notion that they can decide what goes over these pipes and what doesn’t.

The freedom fighter companies? Over-the-tops. Internet companies. Be it Google, Skype, WhatsApp, Netflix or Amazon – they all just hogged up that network of the telecom companies – and they did that without paying (!). So the OTT companies, along with customers went and whined, bitching all the time about net neutrality, and how bits on the network have feelings too, and we can’t discriminate one bit from another.

Google took it a step further into the do no evil realm.

But then things started changing. Google decided to become a service provider and compete directly with the telecom companies of old. Google Fiber is pushing the envelope in the US into the 1 Gbit/s bandwidth. Sure – only in select cities – raising awareness to the possibilities while putting a finger in the eye of telecom companies.

It now continues with providing WiFi coverage in the US – to the point of displacing AT&T from Starbucks as the WiFi provider. The thing is, it just happened when Google decided to put restrictions of how its pipes fiber is being used. Jon Brodkin on Ars Technica reports Google’s server policy:

Tucked away in Google Fiber’s terms of service is one clause that might annoy some technically inclined users. “Unless you have a written agreement with Google Fiber permitting you to do so, you should not host any type of server using your Google Fiber connection,”

So… you pay for your bits, you want to send them in the opposite direction – serving content instead of consuming content – and you aren’t allowed to do so.

And like any good old service provider, Google just indicates that this doesn’t break network neutrality it is just necessary for them in order to manage and maintain their network. I wonder what would happen if Google found out that 90% of the traffic on their Google Fiber goes to Facebook. Or Netflix. Or Amazon AWS.

Does that make service providers bad? Frankly, I don’t know. Think of it this way: you plan and build your service (in this case network) for a specific workload and scenario. You tweak and fine-tune it accordingly. You price it in a way that makes it a viable business. And then someone uses it differently, but in a way that makes no business sense to you any longer. Will you change anything or just continue on going as usual?

It seems that for those operating a real network, and not just riding one, there are market realities and use cases that can’t be served easily (or that just don’t leave enough money on the table). This might be an issue of optimization, of becoming more competitive in your domain, or it can just be greed.

Whatever the reason is, it is interesting to see how a shift from one side of the fence to the other, changes the worldview of a service provider.


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  1. Disagree on this one.

    Pretty much every ISP on the planet differentiates between Internet *access* and Internet *hosting* for consumer services. I’m not aware of any regulators – even in neutrality-centric Netherlands, Chile & Israel – that have a problem with this.

    Yes I know that *technically* a few things like P2P, Slingbox etc. might fall foul of this – but that’s not what the rules are about; I imagine it’s about preventing having a bazillion inbound IP connections crashing the local access routers.

    This is all completely orthogonal to the normal debates about Neutrality, and in many ways cloud an otherwise very clear & important argument.

    1. Dean,

      Let’s define bazillion and inbound.

      I am no network expert in that type of an area, but why is inbound harder for the network provider than outbound?

      And let’s assume I host my blog at home. With the number of pageviews I have, it is taxing the system a lot less than a single streamed video file I consume. Where do we draw the line then?

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