Google's OpenEdge Clouds Its Net Neutrality Stance

A network edge-caching measure that accesses data temporarily stored on servers near end users is causing some to question Google's long-term intentions.
Google's OpenEdge project -- an edge-caching measure in which frequently accessed data is temporarily stored on servers located near end users -- is putting its support of Internet traffic neutrality in question.

A report Monday in The Wall Street Journal charges that the new "fast track" policy by Google will undermine its commitment to the net neutrality concept. Citing "documents reviewed by the Journal," reporters focused on Google's OpenEdge project as evidence of Google's pending effort to downgrade its support of net neutrality.

Network neutrality, which Google has been a vocal supporter of, would ensure that broadband service providers don't prioritize some Internet content, applications or services over other content, applications or services.

The accusation produced an immediate response from Google's telecom legal counsel Richard Witt, who strongly denied the charge.

"Despite the hyperbolic tone and confused claims in Monday's Journal story," Witt wrote in his blog, "I want to be perfectly clear about one thing: Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open."

Witt explained that its OpenEdge project is "non-exclusive, meaning any other entity could employ similar arrangements."

Stephen Arnold, a search engine expert who has written several books and reports on Google, zeroed in on Google's edge-caching as key to the argument that Google is not backtracking.

"Google's twist on the edge-caching setup is that it doesn't want to bother with the hassle of setting up a server facility and arranging a fat pipe to connect it with the local network," Arnold said in his blog. "Instead, they're negotiating with ISPs to simply collocate their servers in the existing network facilities, neatly clearing both of these hurdles. Google emphasized that these deals won't be exclusive -- any content provider could get the same sort of deal if it's willing to pay the ISPs' prices -- and its commitment to net neutrality stands."

The Journalstory, which featured sketches of Google chairman Eric Schmidt and President-elect Barack Obama, suggested that Obama and prominent Internet lawyer Lawrence Lessig, were shifting their previous positions that supported net neutrality.

Lessig, who taught law courses years ago with Obama at the University of Chicago, said in his blog post Monday that he hasn't shifted his opinion on net neutrality and hasn't seen any evidence that Obama has shifted his opinion, either.

"The article is an indirect effort to gin up a drama about a drama about an alleged shift in Obama's policies about network neutrality," Lessig wrote in his blog. "What's the evidence for the shift? That Google allegedly is negotiating for faster service on some network pipes." Lessig, who recently accepted a new post at Harvard Law School, said he hasn't "softened" his opinion on net neutrality as suggested in the Journal story.

Noting that since Google and Lessig aren't abandoning their commitment to net neutrality, Arnold doesn't believe there is any "tectonic shift" on the issue under way on their part.