Wall Street Journal Gets Net Neutrality Wrong Again

This is the second time we have taken The Wall Street Journal to task for misunderstanding net neutrality issues. In a front page article today The Wall Street Journal reprimands Google for approaching major ISPs with a proposal that the newspaper says puts net neutrality at risk. According to The Journal, Google would co-locate its own caching servers within ISPs' networks. If this violates net neutrality, then what Akamai, Limelight Networks, CDNetworks, BitGravity, EdgeCast, EdgeStream, Highwinds, Level 3, Panther Express, and other content delivery network (CDN) services have been doing for years also violates net neutrality. Yet we saw no mention that CDN services violate net neutrality. How is this different? It is not, and The Wall Street Journal is mistaken.

The concern that led to net neutrality legislation was that ISPs would unfairly discriminate against select types of content, or content from or to certain destinations. In the case of CDN services there is no unfair discrimination--content owners pay to have content placed closer to users so users get it faster. Rather than pay a CDN service for space in their servers, Google's alleged violation is to co-locate its own caching servers within ISPs' networks instead--in effect creating its own CDN. Not only do CDN customers not discriminate against other content providers--they do other content providers a favor by removing traffic from the Internet backbone, helping not hurting the remaining traffic.

We believe it would be a stretch to get the FCC involved to right the alleged wrong that The Wall Street Journal reporters cite. If there is an injustice here, it may be that Google is big enough to afford its own CDN instead of using an off-the-shelf CDN service. Perhaps The Wall Street Journal would be better served accusing Google of being huge and successful (not something they usually object to). If being big and successful poses a problem that needs remediation, it should be a matter for the SEC not the FCC.

Caching content close to users is not a violation of net neutrality principles, and we believe The Wall Street Journal is so mistaken on this point that it should print a retraction.

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