Google's call for open Internet hedged in its own rules

Aug 02, 2013 by Lindsay Wise

When Google was just a mighty search engine, the company championed an open, unfettered Internet. Now that it's selling ultra-fast broadband Internet and TV service in Kansas City, Mo., with plans to repeat the service elsewhere, the tech giant bars customers from hosting servers on the Google Fiber network without written permission.

In some tech circles, that's seen as at least a partial reversal by Google, one that might undercut the company's position in coming regulatory battles over the concept known as net neutrality.

In the past, Google has been an outspoken advocate for net neutrality, a set of regulations that prevent Internet from giving a preference to any type of Internet traffic over another or blocking any lawful content, applications, services or devices.

Google Fiber spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said in a statement that the company's stance on net neutrality hadn't changed.

"Google is a strong supporter of the open Internet," Wandres said.

Yet in the fine print of Google Fiber's terms of service, legally binding language forbids customers from hosting any type of server "unless you have a written agreement with Google Fiber permitting you to do so."

"It really does feel like an about-face," said Dan Andresen, an associate professor of computing and information sciences at Kansas State University. "There is kind of a sense of betrayal or concern that we thought Google was different (from other Internet service providers) and it turns out they aren't."

He said the policy might have a chilling effect on users, particularly entrepreneurs who may have moved to the Kansas City area to take advantage of Google Fiber's lightning-fast connection speed of one gigabit per second. That's roughly 100 times faster than most home broadband connections in the United States.

Even Skype, a nanny cam, Slingbox or the program that monitors the solar panel on Andresen's home could be considered servers, and therefore technically prohibited under Google Fiber's terms of service, he said.

"Google has made this effectively a consumption-only device while marketing all these cool things you can do with this gigabit connection," Andresen said. "Now they're coming and saying, 'Oh, but wait, there's a whole huge class of things that now we are forbidding.' "

Indeed, often overlooked is that Google Fiber promises not just light-speed downloads, but also uploads of a gigabit per second, a full thousand times faster than most home consumers experience. That capability makes running a server - the sort of computer that can host a website or channel peer-to-peer file-swapping operations - far more practical at home.

The issue surfaced in a complaint filed by Douglas McClendon of Lawrence, Kan. - an area where Google Fiber has yet to announce any plans to sell Internet hookups - with the Federal Communications Commission.

Google had until this week to reply. On Monday, the company argued in a letter to the FCC that its terms of service run consistent with industry standards and don't violate the government's open Internet rules.

The company noted in the letter that Google Fiber is intended as a residential offering only, not a business product. Despite general language in the terms of service, Google Fiber won't prevent the legal, noncommercial use of applications such as multi-player gaming, videoconferencing and home security, the letter said.

Google Fiber plans to offer a small business service in the future for customers who want to run commercial servers on the network, said Wandres, the Google spokeswoman. She couldn't estimate how much such a product would cost or predict when it would launch.

"We will allow small business servers on the network," she said.

Although Google's letter to the FCC ignited some outrage in the tech blogosphere, a few analysts found the reaction overblown.

Stacey Higginbotham, a blogger for GigaOM, wrote that the development was a "tempest in a teapot" that she hoped would spark serious debates over how to define servers and how to distinguish use from business use. The distinction can be blurry when so many people work from home or run startups from their basements, she said.

"Google will be at the forefront of these debates because it's trying to push the envelope on broadband offerings while still trying to turn a profit," Higginbotham wrote. "Like a bar owner or a central banker, it has to encourage exuberance, while curbing the obvious harms of irrational exuberance. That's a tough line to walk."

Google's earliest days as a fledgling search engine relied heavily on getting Internet bandwidth, robust capacity that its founders commandeered surreptitiously on the campus of Stanford University.

Today, Google's problem is that whenever customers buy "unlimited" service for their homes, the Internet service provider is counting on the customers using it "normally," said Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University.

Ordinary home users might stream Netflix movies or play games online, Wallach said in an email, but they "generally don't pull or push a solid gigabit per second, flat out, all day long."

"What Google is worried about is the possibility that users will run full-blown Web services out of their homes and will truly run that gigabit link flat-out 24-7," he said. "That sort of usage would crush their backbone."

If you were to shop for such a service commercially, you'd pay much more than Google is charging, Wallach said. For example, RackSpace, one of the big commercial providers, charges $0.12 per gigabyte, or $120 per terabyte. Regularly moving such large chunks of data over Google Fiber-sized bandwidth would be unaffordable for most home consumers.

A gigabit connection in most American cities can easily cost $500 a month, compared with $70 per month from Google Fiber.

"Google's prices are either the bargain of the century," Wallach said, "or Google needs to have terms of service that discourage people from running data centers in their garages."

Google Fiber earlier reversed itself on how open its network would be. In 2010, Google said its fiber optic network would "operate an 'open access' network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers." That meant it could lease its lines - distinctive because fiber optic wires go directly to homes - to competitors such as Time Warner Cable or Comcast. But last year, Google decided not to open the network to other Internet service providers.

Explore further: Fine tuning your campaign: Scientists conduct research into crowdfunding

4.8 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google sits on Internet-traffic throne, says report

Jul 23, 2013

The stats are in. According to Deepfield, an Internet analytics business, Google serves 25 percent of North American Internet traffic. The question becomes, glass half empty or full and overflowing?

Recommended for you

Spain: Google News vanishes amid 'Google Tax' spat

Dec 16, 2014

Google on Tuesday followed through with a pledge to shut down Google News in Spain in reaction to a Spanish law requiring news publishers to receive payment for content even if they are willing to give it away.

Brazil: Google fined in Petrobras probe

Dec 15, 2014

A Brazilian court says it has fined Google around $200,000 for refusing to intercept emails needed in a corruption investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Microsoft builds support over Ireland email case

Dec 15, 2014

Microsoft said Monday it had secured broad support from a coalition of influential technology and media firms as it seeks to challenge a US ruling ordering it to hand over emails stored on a server in Ireland.

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CapitalismPrevails
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 02, 2013
If you don't like the idea of acquiring permission to host a server on Google's network then host it elsewhere. Opt for wireless networks. Make Google compete.
BTW, why is it bad for service providers to give "preference to any type of Internet traffic over another or blocking any lawful content, applications, services or devices." The market demands a free internet. Service providers will strive to satisfy that demand.
kochevnik
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 02, 2013
BTW, why is it bad for service providers to give "preference to any type of Internet traffic over another or blocking any lawful content, applications, services or devices." The market demands a free internet. Service providers will strive to satisfy that demand.

It's bad because some carrier on one leg of your packet hopping will drop or slow your packet down, making your voice sound as incoherent as your logic. Also goodbye video chat or online gaming without paying a premium

You can't pick and choose the carriers dynamically chosen by core routers, unless you build your own Internet. Good luck with that, CP
SlashV
not rated yet Aug 02, 2013
Google is offering a gigabit network, but you're supposed to use it "normally"??
If you're not offering a gigabit network that you can use anyway you want it to, then don't promote it as such! Put on a datacap or something, but don't tell someone what is "normal" or tell them what they can or cannot do on the network.
CapitalismPrevails
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 02, 2013

It's bad because some carrier on one leg of your packet hopping will drop or slow your packet down, making your voice sound as incoherent as your logic. Also goodbye video chat or online gaming without paying a premium


If i use more electricity, should my power utility charge me a higher premium? If video chat takes up more bandwidth, why is it wrong the ISPs to charge a premium for it? I already pay a premium for an Xbox Live account. They provide a better network service than Sony Playstation does.

You can't pick and choose the carriers dynamically chosen by core routers, unless you build your own Internet. Good luck with that, CP
If there's enough demand for a new internet because the"core routers" are abusing their power, the market will provide it.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Aug 02, 2013
If i use more electricity, should my power utility charge me a higher premium? If video chat takes up more bandwidth, why is it wrong the ISPs to charge a premium for it? I already pay a premium for an Xbox Live account. They provide a better network service than Sony Playstation does.
QOS has nothing to do with bandwidth. With your analogy the electric company spies on your house and quadruples your rates when you use the kitchen
If there's enough demand for a new internet because the"core routers" are abusing their power, the market will provide it.
You fail to understand that the Internet is not controlled by a single entity and the algorithm routers employ [BGP4, OLSR] to select carriers is not based on price, but latency. What the market provides has nothing to do with router criteria. Arguably the network technician could wire in static routes to a single carrier, but that configuration would break and would incur monopolistic pricing
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2013
If there's enough demand for a new internet because the"core routers" are abusing their power, the market will provide it.

Technically correct, but misleading. Or betraying a naive understanding of how corporations work.

The goal of any for-profit corporation is to make money for its owners. Only sometimes does this mean providing better value to its customers. And only sometimes does that mean by acceding to their demands. And your view utterly ignores cost-of-entry issues. And cartels that act to prevent new competition. And, no doubt, many other factors.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2013
Conservaturds again utterly fail to grasp the simple fact that the Internet is built upon sharing, not hoarding. With the introduction of netflix etc. there is a market for unidirectional bandwidth, but that is simply a transfer of cable bandwidth into Internet protocols over the same copper. Broadcasting is NOT what the Internet is meant to do. It just happens to be better than existing crotchety, aging USA infrastructure. Ultimately these tea-bagger arguments revolve around ad hoc hacks to bandage infrastructure and enrich monopolists during the USA's descent into a third world economy mired in deflation

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.