Saturday, December 06, 2008

Google Using 21x the Bandwidth It Pays For? By Whose Math?

This week, Scott Cleland of Precursor LLC, a "telecom analyst" and Chairman of, an anti-Net Neutrality organization, released a study (.PDF) this week called "Estimating Google’s U.S. Consumer Internet Usage & Cost -- 2007-2010." According to Cleland, in terms of broadband, Google used 21x more than it paid for. Of course, the mere chairmanship of NETCompetition (take a look at its members) leads one to be concerned about, oh say, neutrality, and not just net neutrality.

Cleland's study says that in 2008 Google accounted for 16.5% of all U.S. consumer Internet traffic in 2008 (he estimates that to grow to 25% in 2009 and 37% in 2010). He also estimates that:
"approximately $344 million in 2008 or 0.8% of U.S. consumer’s flat-rate monthly Internet access costs of $44.0 billion. Thus Google’s 16.5% share of all 2008 U.S. consumer bandwidth usage, is ~21 times greater than Google’s 0.8% share of U.S. consumer bandwidth costs – or an implicit ~$6.9 billion subsidy of Google by U.S. consumers."
So, we'll get into the math later. But what's happening here is Cleland is trying to prod the American consumer at his most vulnerable point: his wallet. This is no different than trying to trick voters into believing that a tax plan which reduces taxes for 98% of Americans while raising taxes on the wealthy is a tax increase period. Mention dollars and people's minds tend to fog over.

The actual concept of Net Neutrality is not so much about dollars but about, as says:
Put simply, Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.

The nation's largest telephone and cable companies -- including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner -- want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video -- while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

So, in effect, yes, it's obvious that Google would use more bandwidth than say, me, but the principle of Net Neutrality basically says "so what?" Using Google is a grand example of a heavy user, but any sort of anti-Net Neutrality might mean that those with smaller wallets don't get the same treatment on the 'Net as others. And that is against the guiding principles of the Internet, as no less than Vint Cerf, credited by many as founding the Internet, has said himself.

About that math. Well, Cleland doesn't know a lot of information, so he estimates it. For example, Google doesn't report how much they pay for bandwidth, so Cleland estimates by examining Google’s 10-Q and 10-K filings with the SEC for 2007 and 2008.

And Google doesn't specify how much bandwidth is consumed by webcrawling, so he again guesses. A guess x a guess equals a guess with a still larger margin for error.

And as Richard Whitt, Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel points out, Cleland also doesn't address the fact that:
already pays billions of dollars for the bandwidth and server capacity necessary to connect our data centers together, and then to carry traffic from those data centers to the Internet backbone. That is the way the Net has always operated: each side pays for their own connection to the Net.
Cleland also states that YouTube streams half of the video on the Internet, which might be true in terms of market share, but let's not compare a YouTube video of a few minutes to say a movie from Netflix. Or has he contacted Neflix as well?

Obviously Google has gotten on the bad side of NETCompetition; Google has always been a strong supporter of Net Neutrality, and the ISPs and telecoms are looking for someone to pay for maintaining and improving their broadband infrastructure. At the same time, content providers, whether Google, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes or whatever are pushing more and more content to consumers, using up more and more bandwidth.

In return, ISPs throttle or place caps on usage. And honestly, the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in terms of broadband adoption and speed of our broadband services.

We can't win for losing. It's not like these pipes or tubes (I'm channeling Ted Stevens here) care how much traffic is being sent down them; they're not made of concrete like a road. They'd have to pay the same for maintenance and build-up if it were just me using it, and no one else. But here, we have a huge company that has ticked them off, that they can pick on .

But if the telecoms are going to do this, and write a study about it, can they at least get some real cost figures and do some real math? Unlikely that I would change my mind anyway, but still ...

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