Net Neutral? Not So Much

Google has been getting into many more things than just search for many years. Over the same period of time they have been fierce defenders of the kind of open Internet that allows the kind of innovation that has allowed the space to flourish. The government body chartered with the policing of that freedom is typically the FCC. That much maligned body, who I always associate with their long term persecution of Howard Stern, has regulated that Internet providers may not prevent their subscribers from attaching ‘non harmful’ devices to their network. In other words, if you wanted to hand a small home server off your network to allow all your family access to the content you have purchased online, your ISP couldn’t stop you.  Google has been a long-term supporter of this open Internet “net neutrality” approach to the growth of the web, and they have benefited from it greatly over time.

It was thus with a certain degree of incredulity that I read the accounts of the spat developing between Google Fiber and the FCC over exactly this issue. This is all a little “inside baseball”, but it’s important and we should all be aware of this potential problem. Whether the stories of Google buying up vast tracks of unused or “dark fiber” are really true or just an urban legend, Google has been investing heavily in becoming a significant very high speed ISP.  It’s currently deploying its ultra fast 1GB/S fiber to the lucky citizens of Kansas City. That’s an amazingly fast network, which pretty much any household would love to have… but there’s a teeny tiny problem. In their terms of use, Google prevents its lucky subscribers from attaching any kind of server or devices to provide large numbers of web users to its network. That is such a sweeping limitation that you wouldn’t be able to hook up a small email server or media server, I couldn’t share screens or content over Goto Meeting, I couldn’t use my favorite torrent program (I don’t torrent, that’s bad), or even deploy a nanny cam to watch the nanny from my office. I can’t think of a single way any of those sorts of actions could even put a dent in the kind of bandwidth Google is offering, but they would all be forbidden in their Brave New World.

Not Surprisingly the FCC has taken them to task and is asking Google to please explain what on God’s good green earth they are thinking of. Their restrictions are doubly puzzling given that only a few months ago they were lobbying for net neutrality from an exactly opposite position.  No doubt many lawyers will now rush in argue both sides. Although this feels like a very geeky minor point, in fact it’s potentially a huge issue.  If Google wins they will pave the way for our ISPs to significantly limit what we can do with the ever-expanding bandwidth we are paying for. I worked hard for that bandwidth, and I’d like to keep what I do with it up to me not my ISP.

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