On Monday the Wall Street Journal published an article alleging that Google was trying to arrange a “fast lane for its own content” with telecom carriers and contending that Google and Professor Lessig were in the midst of changing their position on network neutrality policy. The WSJ reporters received a lot of flak for the piece – justifiably so. There was no real “news” in this news article. Google’s deals for edge caching and similar services such as Akamai, which speed up content delivery, have been around for years. Lessig’s comments at an unspecified “conference” happened months ago. The WSJ’s sudden interest in the topic seemed more like an attempt to poison the well as the Obama Administration and its net neutrality-friendly team ascends to power.
There is one useful outcome of this incident, however. It helps to clarify the relationship between bandwidth management and network neutrality arguments. As such it reinforces an argument IGP made in its paper on net neutrality one year ago. We claimed back then that advocates should not link net neutrality to a misguided “bandwidth egalitarianism” which asserts that any attempt to offer faster speeds at higher prices is evil. The cause of real net neutrality should assert the principle of nondiscriminatory access and focus on fighting ISPs and governments who block access to Internet content, applications and services for anti-competitive or censorial purposes. We warned back then that the chimerical ideal of forcing all content and services to “move at the same speed” would serve as a great way to discredit and ridicule the ideal of net neutrality. The WSJ was cleverly attempting to exploit this ideological fissure in the media reform movement, just as we warned someone would do.
We think that both service providers and end users should be able to buy better (faster) speeds at a higher price; the effect of such market competition will be to expand bandwidth for everyone and make those who consume more bandwidth resources pay more, while easing the cost burden on those who use less. The one saving grace of the WSJ provocation is that it has forced this issue into the open and made net neutrality advocates clarify their position on it.