"Google uses 21 times more bandwidth than it pays for," charges Scott Cleland in a report issued under the aegis of Precursor, a telecom research and consulting firm. Cleland also runs NetCompetition.org, a group opposed to Net Neutrality legislation, which Google supports.
The study estimated Google used 16.5% of all U.S. consumer Internet traffic in 2008, and that share is estimated to grow to 25% in 2009 and 37% in 2010. What drives this conspicuous bandwidth consumption is Google's search bots regularly copy every page on the Internet, some as frequently as every few seconds, and Google's YouTube streams almost half of all video streamed on the Internet. The study estimated Google's payment to fund just the U.S. consumer broadband Internet segment to be approximately $344 million in 2008 or 0.8% of U.S. consumer's flat-rate monthly Internet access costs of $44.0 billion. Thus, Google's 16.5% share of all 2008 U.S. consumer bandwidth usage, is ~21 times greater than Google's 0.8% share of U.S. consumer bandwidth costs -- or an implicit ~$6.9 billion subsidy of Google by U.S. consumers.
That number is more or less pulled out of the air, given that Google doesn't actually disclose how much bandwidth it uses.
Richard Whitt, Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, made quick work of Cleland's study in a post on its Public Policy blog today, noting that he's paid the phone and cable companies to criticize Google. More to the point, Whitt charges Cleland with factual and methodological errors.
First and foremost, there's a huge difference between your own home broadband connection, and the Internet as a whole. It's the consumers voluntarily choosing to use our applications who are actually using their own broadband bandwidth -- not Google. To say that Google somehow "uses" consumers' home broadband connections shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Internet actually works.
Second, Google already pays billions of dollars for the bandwidth and server capacity necessary to connect our data centers together, and then to carry traffic from those data centers to the Internet backbone. That is the way the Net always has operated: each side pays for their own connection to the Net.
Third, Mr. Cleland's cost estimates are overblown. For one, his attempt to correlate Google's "market share and traffic" to use of petabytes of bandwidth is misguided. The whole point of a search engine like Google's is to connect a user to some other Web site as quickly as possible. If Mr. Cleland's definition of "market share" includes all those other sites, and then attributes them to Google's "traffic," that mistake alone would skew the overall numbers by a huge amount.
NetCompetition.org "advocates continuing a free market Internet and opposes a 'socialized-Internet.' Net neutrality advocates activist regulation of broadband prices, terms, and conditions."
Of course, the free market is what ruined our financial system. Had we not been so regulation-averse, the ongoing market meltdown might have been mitigated or avoided entirely.
Thus, it's with profound skepticism that I view NetCompetition's red-baiting invocation of socialism. Those opposed to Barack Obama's election accused him of being a socialist, a charge that looks laughable today, given his middle-of-the-road cabinet picks. Arguing against Net Neutrality using poisoned terms like "socialized" and "activist" strikes me as similarly bankrupt.
Frankly, if Google, other Web companies, and consumers truly are benefiting from subsidized bandwidth, as Cleland charges, we need more of that. Bandwidth is the air supply that allows the Internet eco-system to thrive. It should be subsidized, as a platform for the free market. Without it, the Internet would be a mere shadow of what it is today. And it could be a lot more, considering the bandwidth available in countries like Japan.
Most of what goes on online isn't worth paying for and the metered usage world longed for by Net Neutrality foes would lay waste to the Internet in all its time-wasting, trivial glory. I remember paying $6 an hour for a CompuServe dial-up connection in the early '90s. It was a strong disincentive to being online then and it would be even more so today.