No, Google Fiber doesn't violate Net neutrality

Let's not undermine the Net neutrality fight with poor interpretations

After reading an article on Google's "flip-flop" on Net neutrality, I came away with a foul taste in my mouth -- not because I believe Google is "flip-flopping" on the matter, but because the circumstances are not nearly as black and white, nor as duplicitous as the author would have us believe. If we're going to win any sort of Net neutrality fight, we can't muddy the waters with innuendo and false reasoning.

Let's start at the head of the matter: Google doesn't want Google Fiber home users to run "servers." This, to me, is a completely acceptable stance. Google Fiber offers bandwidth at a level that most large companies don't enjoy, and it's designed to be fast and responsive for home user applications. This means smartphones, laptops, televisions, and whatever consumer-grade applications and devices you can come up with. What Google is saying in the TOS is that it doesn't want someone to pay $120 per month for Google Fiber, then set up a few 42U racks of servers and run a hosting company out of their basement. That's a completely different matter than using a Slingbox, running a Minecraft server, or SSHing into your home network.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Challenged by Google Fiber, ISPs opt to hasten their demise. | Get the latest practical info and news with InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter. ]

The fact is, Google is well within its rights, and perfectly consistent with the Net neutrality concept, to ban "servers" from its service. Google Fiber is not, nor was it ever, designed for corporate use. Google claims it will be offering a business-class service in the future, and I expect it will have a similar TOS to other business-class services from other ISPs, in that running servers is not only OK, but expected -- hence the term "business-class."

The quibble is this language: "Unless you have a written agreement with Google Fiber permitting you do so, you should not host any type of server using your Google Fiber connection..." Broadly defined, that could be anything, and I fully agree that Google should modify this language to make its intentions clearer. However, that does not mean it's flip-flopping or even backtracking on its Net neutrality stance.

If Google was throttling traffic to its competitors -- or to anyone, for that matter -- then it would be violating Net neutrality. If it were offering only tiered services with access to a handful of websites rather than the entire Internet, then it would be in violation of Net neutrality. If it were outright blocking or censoring certain sites, protocols, or services, then again it would be in violation to its stated position on Net neutrality. But Google is doing none of these things, and I fervently hope it never does. Should that come to pass, I'll be the first one with the torch and pitchfork.

That said, having a TOS that prevents a Google Fiber user from running a colo in their house seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable stance. Google Fiber is designed to deliver content to the home, not to a business, much the same as consumer-grade cable and DSL. Most consumer-grade Internet service is far too slow for business use, or it suffers high or irregular latency that makes running a business through that circuit a nonstarter. Thus, the ISPs typically also offer a business-class service that has ostensibly higher and more consistent performance, static IP addresses, and outage service priority. That's why business-class circuits are more expensive -- because businesses are expected to consume more bandwidth on a consistent basis.

I wouldn't expect the USPS to deliver a cargo load of freight for the price of a stamp, and we shouldn't expect ISPs to deliver business-grade bandwidth and services for the price of a DSL connection.

The bandwidth provided by Google Fiber is more than enough to run a small to medium-sized business. It's more bandwidth per user than even the largest companies could acquire not too long ago. However, it's still a consumer-grade service, and it should be viewed as such. There are no static IPs, for instance.

If anything needs to change here, it should be Google's TOS. While I've seen no evidence of Google putting the kibosh on someone's Slingbox or sending a cease-and-desist to a Minecraft server host, I could very well imagine the company wanting to chat with a "home" user who is filling up a gigabyte pipe in one or both directions 24/7.

Instead of ruling out "any type of server," Google's terms perhaps should clarify that running servers for business use or high-volume nonbusiness purposes is forbidden. Those wishing to use Google Fiber for those ends should contact Google and/or wait for the business-class offering to become a reality.

Until then, I won't wring my hands about it. Instead, I'll wait not so patiently for Google to head to my area, or at least kickstart my ISP into providing even one-tenth of Google's service for the same money.

This story, "No, Google Fiber doesn't violate Net neutrality," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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