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Friday, August 13, 2010

The hidden secret in the Google / Verizon statement on Net Neutrality

I've worked out the "dirty little secret", hidden in plain sight.

On the fixed Internet, Google doesn't actually care about prioritisation. In almost all developed markets, "best-effort" Internet access is perfectly adequate for YouTube and other "heavy" Google apps, especially when used with variable definition-quality, either at the user's control or using dynamic rate adaptation.

The agreement with Verizon means that VZ won't deliberately block or degrade YouTube or other content. That's one worry off the table for Google. But, interestingly, it also suggests that it can't prioritise either - something I'd been seeing expecting as a possibility for broadband business models. At least, it can't prioritise *Internet* traffic. More on the non-Internet service options later.

But I don't think Google really cares *that much* about getting HD YouTube to peoples' PCs, so the fact it won't be able to buy high-priority, QoS-controlled video clips isn't a problem. It wouldn't have bought them anyway - and I suspect Verizon knew that. (Unlike some of the more naive European operators).

Instead, it cares about two things:

  • Better targetting of PC-based YouTube advertising (and ads on other Google PC services)
  • Opportunities for non-PC (and non-mobile) Google services, for TVs, energy meters, tablets, consumer electronics and so forth.
My belief is that the PC is all about the Internet (capital-I). Google wants PC users to carry on seeing adverts in their browsers around search, in Gmail, and importantly, on YouTube and other properties. The Verizon proposals don't limit this. But what I suspect *may* happen is that Google will do deals with ISPs and Telcos on an affiliate-style basis. If Verizon helps Google sell *more* adverts, at higher prices, to YouTube or other users, then it might get a share of the uplift in advertising revenues.

While the proposals stop Verizon asking for money to *prioritise* YouTube traffic, it doesn't stop them asking for money to help *monetise* YouTube traffic. So Verizon customer data + Google adverts on PCs = more money than just just Google adverts alone. Win-Win. And not so good for the other web companies who don't have slick affiliate / advertising-targetting / rev-share engines.

The other side is around non-PC access. To be honest, there's not really any need to connect your TV or your electricity meter or your toaster to the "real Internet". You're not going to be browsing, or downloading new apps, or really doing any of the cool, ever-changing things the Internet permits. They will also have some very specific network requirements - eg the meter or a healthcare gadget will *absolutely* need security and prioritisation - and in fact, having them running as a service separate from the Internet is much safer and possibly regulatorily-mandated. Your TV, on the other hand, will come with extra user expectations - no video buffering, for a start.

So it seems to me that it is quite right that a future Google Smart Grid, or Google TV-YouTube, or Google HealthMonitor service should be able to operate on a completely separate basis from normal, best-efforts, PC-application Google stuff. With appropriate business models, however configured by all the parties involved. And not just Google, either. I wouldn't want a future Verizon / GE remote-monitored pacemaker service to be viewed "neutrally" on a par with the Internet access partition on the network.

The issue here isn't about a two-tiered Internet.

It's that networked services and applications are already split between Internet and non-Internet, and they're going to stay that way.

The Internet is absolutely fantastic for many applications, and absolutely wrong for others.

In the same way, massmarket cellular networks are fantastic for many applications, but I wouldn't want my smart meter or a policeman's radio running over those, either.

This issue of prioritising non-Internet uses of broadband lines is covered in considerable detail in the report on Broadband Busines Models published a few months ago. Details here


Anonymous said...

I remember a few years ago when all this net neutrality issue first arose discussing it with a now ex-exec from Virgin Media

He pointed out that they already had non-neutral pipes in cable and there is no issue

With cable you get about 800MHz of spectrum which can be used for IP, TV, radio, etc...

The partition of of this for TV, some for the Internet via IP. They could easily partition another blocks for VoIP, IPTV, health, meters, etc..

The key thing is that what you sell as Internet access to the WWW is on a neutral basis (i.e. your 10 Mbps cable broadband) - the rest of it can be sold as managed services with whatever business model you want

This sounds very like what Google and Verizon have agreed to....

Dean Bubley said...

Yes, I agree - although not clear whether it would be partitioned at "wire level" or abstracted as virtualisations of a single IP connection.

In ADSL, I seem to recall that the first few kHz is left for analogue voice, and the higher frequencies for the DSL connection.

The thing is that partitioning with a hardware cable filter is a bit different to partitioning with a router, because of the scope for "secret" and dynamic monkeying-about in software.

Anonymous said...

At a commercial level it's almost irrelevant if it is hardware of software QoS though

You're right about ADSL

It's always difficult to stop the secret monkeying about...

Davide said...

Dean wrote:
"The agreement with Verizon means that VZ won't deliberately block or degrade YouTube or other content ... But, interestingly, it also suggests that it can't prioritise either"

Hi Dean,

I disagree with the end of your statement. Why prioritization is not allowed?

As far as I understood, Google-Verizon Net Neutrality Plan means carriers could not discriminate against or restrict different types of (lawful) data from running through its BROADBAND (fixed) network but WIRELESS networks are out of the debate.
Verizon and Google want cellular data to be exempt from the neutrality policies proposed for the fixed networks.

In my opinion, this means Youtube traffic can be prioritized. Am I missing something?