OMG! WSJ net-neutrality own-goal...

In Monday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings watches the Wall Street Journal "inaccurately" stir up a hornets' nest of net-neutrality controversy. Not to mention a merry BetamaXmas...

The WSJ's Vishesh Kumar and Christopher Rhoads jump in, all four feet first:

Obama
The celebrated openness of the Internet -- network providers are not supposed to give preferential treatment to any traffic -- is quietly losing powerful defenders.

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The developments could test Mr. Obama's professed commitment to network neutrality ... Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same -- nobody is supposed to jump the line.

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Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content ... Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have withdrawn quietly from a coalition formed two years ago to protect network neutrality ... Lawrence Lessig, an Internet law professor at Stanford University and an influential proponent of network neutrality, recently shifted gears by saying ... that content providers should be able to pay for faster service.
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At first, Om Malik worried:

The WSJ story doesn’t quite outline how this system is supposed to work, but my best guess is that Google would essentially put a majority of its content and services closer to the service provider’s infrastructure ... While it might seem like a smart move in the short term — it can put Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook at a disadvantage — in the long run, this move will be like swinging the tiger by the tail ... Google would have no way to put the genie back in the bottle.

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Even the so-called Internet liberals have started to back away from the concept of network neutrality ... Larry Lessig (a adviser to President-elect Obama), an academic who roared and helped champion such powerful new ideas such as Creative Commons, forgets that we live in a world where access for broadband is provided by a duopoly that has thoroughly corrupted the FCC and legislative system.

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Forget Lessig for a minute. Google’s attempts to get its packets ahead of others by paying the carriers is going to be a body blow to the network neutrality movement.  Or as they say, Et tu, Larry & Sergey?.
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But Laurence Lessig vehemently denies a U-turn:

I got off the plane from Boston to find my inbox filled with anger ... I hope you will direct any anger at the Wall Street Journal ... The article is an indirect effort to gin up a drama about a drama about an alleged shift in Obama's policies.

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I do know something about my own views, and what the Journal has done here is really extraordinary ... I have stated that network providers should be free to charge different rates for different service -- "so long," the Journal quotes, "as the faster service at a higher price is available to anyone willing to pay it."

But the whole punch of the story comes from the suggestion that my position is something new ... Missing from the article, however, is the evidence that my view is a "shift" or "soften[ing]" of earlier views. That's because there isn't any such evidence. My view is the view I have always had ... zero discriminatory surcharge rules are just that -- rules against discriminatory surcharges.
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And Google's Richard Whitt is quietly fuming:

Broadband providers -- the on-ramps to the Internet -- should not be allowed to prioritize traffic based on the source, ownership or destination of the content ... broadband providers should have the flexibility to employ network upgrades, such as edge caching. However, they shouldn't be able to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' broadband connections to hamper user choice, competition, and innovation. Our commitment to that principle of net neutrality remains as strong as ever.

Some critics have questioned whether improving Web performance through edge caching -- temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to end users -- violates the concept of network neutrality. As I said last summer, this myth -- which unfortunately underlies a confused story in Monday's Wall Street Journal -- is based on a misunderstanding of the way in which the open Internet works.

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The Journal story also quoted me as characterizing President-elect Obama's net neutrality policies as "much less specific than they were before." For what it's worth, I don't recall making such a comment, and it seems especially odd given that President-elect Obama's supportive stance on network neutrality hasn't changed at all.
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Richard Bennett waxes sarcastic:

I’m shocked. Google has been caught red-handed negotiating deals with ISPs to host servers inside the building, just like Akamai does ... Oh my goodness.

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One thing that this deal doesn’t do is change the Internet infrastructure. Arrangements like this already exist, predating the kerfuffle over fast lanes created out of thin air by public interest advocates three years ago.

The Internet is not a network, it’s a complex set of agreements to interconnect independently owned and operated networks in various ways. There is no standard agreement, and this story doesn’t report on a new one. What it simply shows is that money buys performance in the technology space, and that should come as no surprise to anyone.
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Mike Masnick offers a nuanced view:

In general, I side pretty strongly with [those] suggesting that we shouldn't rush into net neutrality legislation that is likely to have unintended consequences -- but at the same time, we shouldn't downplay the importance of a neutral end-to-end internet ... The net neutrality battle, as portrayed in the press, [is] quite misleading. It has never really been about "internet companies" vs. "telcos." [It's] especially important for consumers who value neutrality, who mostly lined up behind the big internet companies on the assumption they would fight hard to protect net neutrality.

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The WSJ is blowing this totally out of proportion when it comes to the Google/net neutrality angle. But that doesn't mean it doesn't raise other important questions for those who line up behind the big internet companies in the expectation that Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo will fight various fights for them ... each one of those companies has stepped back from the fight in recent days, and even have been doing deals with telcos that are perhaps on that fuzzy border of a non-neutral internet.

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Google is no longer the defender of Silicon Valley.
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Bernie Arnason looks forward:

It’s a complicated debate which also carries huge competitive implications. If carriers are able to negotiate exclusive content deals for Internet content, they could then use it to their competitive advantage. Increasingly, service providers also own significant content assets of their own, particularly cable companies.

Network neutrality proponents fear these vertically integrated service providers could make their own content more easily available, while restricting access to competitor’s content. Proponents also fear that a very different Internet than today’s version could emerge, where only deep pocketed Internet destinations like Google could afford to strike these types of access deals, thus severely restricting access to lesser known firms.
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Paul Kapustka sums up:

As befits his late Sunday-night blogging style, Om [Malik] quickly reversed course and made a correction.

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It turns out all is well for net neutrality proponents, and maybe not so much so for the Journal’s crew of reporters on this piece ... So far, no response ... on the WSJ site, where the comments are only open to subscribers.
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And finally...

Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 23 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

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