Democracy & Technology Blog Google’s neutrality non sequitur

Google makes some excellent points in the comments it filed with the Federal Communications Commission in a proceeding examining proposals for network neutrality regulation.
First, Google argues that packet prioritization (i.e., Quality of Service) is a “poor proxy for additional bandwidth.”

[T]he engineers at Internet2 conducted a detailed technical analysis of QoS
in broadband networks. Their conclusion is that QoS is a relatively poor proxy for additional
In most bandwidth markets important to network-based research, it is cheaper to buy more capacity and to provide everybody with excellent service than it is to mess with QoS. In those few places where network upgrades are not practical, QoS deployment is usually even harder (due to the high cost of QoS-capable routers and clueful network engineers).

Second, Google argues that packet prioritization doesn’t have a material impact unless it can be activated across the network, which requires cooperation among network operators. That’s something they haven’t been able to manage.

QoS may not even provide the supposed benefits that its supporters suggest. In order for prioritization to have any material impact on a stream of Internet traffic, it must be activated all the way through the Internet, from the content provider’s side of the Internet “cloud” through the backbone networks and finally to the end user. Because any one network operator does not own and control every potential route through the public Internet, numerous multi-party business agreements and/or uniform standards would be required among all Internet service providers to achieve end-to-end QoS. Such arrangements have eluded the parties to date. For example, British Telecom apparently will not employ a QoS-based scheme in its network.

Third, Google argues that network providers have higher incentives to invest in an open Internet.

There are both academic and real-world illustrations of how an open Internet actually creates enhanced incentives to invest in broadband facilities. For example, a recent econometric study at the University of Florida found that the cable and telephone companies providing broadband services are more likely to further develop their infrastructure, resulting in higher data speeds, if they do not charge Web-based content companies for preferential treatment. As the authors concluded, based on detailed economic analysis, “the incentive for the broadband service provider to expand under net neutrality is unambiguously higher than under the no net neutrality regime.” Obviously this outcome “goes against the assertion of the broadband service providers that under net neutrality, they have limited incentive to expand.”

Fourth, video — not packet prioritization — will pay for network upgrades.

[T]hose same broadband providers arguing to policymakers that paid QoS from Internet and technology companies will help finance broadband build-outs, have been telling a very different story to Wall Street investors. There, the providers present well-documented claims that fiber facilities actually pay for themselves, and that proprietary video services — not
prioritization-based fees — will be the primary revenue generator for fiber networks.

These points, along with citations (all of which I have omitted), can be found on pp. 26-32 of Google’s above-referenced comments.
Well, if network providers have more incentives to invest in an open Internet with more bandwidth, why do we need regulators? Regulation is a nuisance, a point even Google acknowledges when it pleads:

It also would be helpful if our opponents were to agree that it would be desirable to
preserve the Internet as an open platform for edge-powered innovation without permission.

Google, can’t you see your proposals would require your opponents to seek permission — the very thing you wish to avoid — every time they work to improve their products and services?

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.