Google Wants You To Be Your Own ISP

Vint Cerf slams the telecoms, which aren't happy that bits have been commoditized and would like to shape industry regulations to help them to get back in the services game.
The Internet is too slow for Google and the nation's telecom and cable companies are to blame. At least that's how Google sees it.

In an interview with journalist Tom Foremski at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Half Moon Bay, Google VP of engineering and chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf slammed AT&T, Verizon, and the cable companies for failing to invest in network infrastructure.

"It's like little kids in a tantrum," he said. "'I'm not going to build this system unless you give me three scoops of ice cream and a pony.'"

Such behavior, Cerf said, harms the national interest.

"What I really want is a split in the regulatory framework for broadband Internet service," Cerf said. "I want to see the reintroduction of common carriers' responsibilities."

In other words, Cerf is arguing for "net neutrality," or protocol-agnostic data transport.

Google is clearly keen keeping the telecoms from coming between it and its customers. The telecoms might do so by charging more for certain kinds of Internet use, like watching video, which places more demand on network infrastructure than accessing text online. Or they might simply abandon flat rate pricing for consumers.

Telecoms, understandably, aren't happy that bits have been commoditized and would like to shape industry regulations to help them to get back in the services game, where the margins are higher.

Faced with telecom intransigence, Google is looking for a defense against those who would throttle the data stream that feeds it.

One way, Google suggests, is for its users to own their own Internet connection. Doing this would require consumers to pay for fiber optic cable to be laid and lit from their homes to the nearest co-location facility, where the consumers could connect to the ISP of their choice.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Google policy analyst Derek Slater suggested that the status quo -- relying on phone and cable companies to own the "last mile" connection -- isn't the way it has to be.

"There's no law of nature that said this is the only possible model," said Slater. "Many businesses, governments, universities, and other entities already own their own fiber connections, rather than leasing access to lines. It may also be possible to find ways for consumers to purchase their own last-mile strands of fiber."

Slater points to a trial of this model among 400 homes that's being conducted in Ottawa, Canada.

"Even if this experiment fails, it can be a worthwhile data point in discussions about broadband deployment," said Slater. "We need as much creative thinking as we can get to determine how to deliver fast, open Internet for everyone."

Last month, Google announced that it had joined the "Internet for Everyone" campaign, a broadband rights initiative that aims to promote high-speed Internet access, choice, openness, and innovation. Other participating organizations include BitTorrent, eBay, a variety of consumer advocacy groups, and no major ISPs.

Google is also considering other ways around the telecoms, as can be seen from the call to open unused portions of the TV spectrum band to Internet devices.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing