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Google's uncertain stance on net neutrality

Emily McClendon
Google's uncertain stance on net neutrality Emily McClendon

A lot of people were shocked when the FCC decided to adopt a set of standards regulating the internet. But why the shock? The issue of net neutrality has been under debate for years, and over time, the meaning of net neutrality has changed in accordance with the prevailing views and preferences of the major stakeholders. That term -- major stakeholder -- just begins to define the interest Google has in influencing net neutrality standards. Any radical shift in how the internet operates will have a huge impact on how Google, and the entire interactive marketing industry, operates. With SEO and PPC dangling perilously close to complete change, one would think Google would support any effort at stabilization. Au contraire, Google has in fact thrown its full and mighty weight behind the new FCC standards. The question is, why?

Why Google should be for net neutrality
In the past, Google has supported net neutrality. In one particularly memorable blog post from 2007, Google goes into full bible thumping mood by promoting the plasticity of the common human resource, the internet.

Ethics aside, it seems logical that Google should want to retain "net neutrality" to prevent a tiered internet, which would disrupt current paid advertising bidding and organic search results. An internet in which preference was given based on data demand would result in speed and functionality that would be controlled by ISPs, therefore affecting the relevancy and speed with which search results were served. In addition, a tiered internet would have a drastic effect on the display network, changing the efficacy of ads with different serving speeds. The unpredictability introduced by fast and slow lanes of internet would weaken the stability of bid auction results and ultimately affect Google's revenue stream, a big no-no. Google also doesn't have a vested interest in ensuring that data can be delivered at peak speeds by separating the fast from the slow.  Realistically, Google doesn't serve content directly. Although Google does serve content through YouTube, this is not the primary channel through which Google serves ads.

Why Google is not for net neutrality
As it turns out, paid search hasn't been continuing to grow exponentially. Sadly, Google's once-inexhaustible gold mine is slowly running out. Luckily, Google is a savvy operator and has long prepared for this eventuality by preparing a vast host of new products to appeal to nearly every sector of consumers. Amongst the options is Android -- you may have heard of it. As it turns out, Google is now insisting that it only ever supported net neutrality for wireline connections, not wireless, aka the kind Android phones use. And how did Google reveal this sudden hair splitting decision? In a joint blog post with Verizon, of course -- that happened to include some lovely caveats. 

For example, both Verizon and Google agree that certain sectors should be exempt from the potential tiered internet, things like health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options. Now, I'm not a gambling person, but I do know for a fact that Google has an emphasis on Google Health and has created an algorithm for monitoring the smart grid. I guess that leaves entertainment and gaming options for Verizon to control, a nice division of the pie if I've ever seen one. 

FCC standards
Until around, say December 21, 2010, net neutrality was all just a fun debate that cropped up in forums every once in a while. However, the FCC has now stepped in and adopted a set of standards intended to preserve net neutrality. Interestingly, they may have done exactly the opposite. The FCC has virtually guaranteed that as long as all data is available, and the manner in which it is being served is transparent, there is no problem with creating a tiered internet. In addition, the rules regulating wireless data serving are even looser. 

Although the FCC requires applications for each OS to be available across networks; there is no stipulation about prioritizing traffic for carrier specific applications. Oh, the irony: All of the sudden, Android is outselling the iPhone, and Google doesn't need silly things like "openness" to get their piece of the market share.

Unforeseen consequences
Google built their base on search. Paid and organic, Google provides the most relevant results and is the primary, if not only, search engine for the majority of users. Google may be complacent about trading in PPC revenue for the potential of Android money, but has Google truly considered the ramifications a tiered internet could have for organic search results? A tiered internet is fine for companies that can afford to pay a premium to get the fastest launch times, but for the small guy with a great product, there's no way to compete. Google's algorithm may be irreparably damaged, relying as it does on an internet in which every page has the same opportunity to appear in rankings. 

Maybe Google has already accounted for a tiered internet and has algorithm shifts prepared.  Maybe Google just doesn't give a fork about search anymore. Either way, the FFC standards and probability of a tiered internet will have far reaching implications, and indubitably change the way search is conducted and served.

Emily McClendon is an environmental marketing specialist at NeboWeb.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: John Caldwell

2011, February 17

Just one little problem; the FCC doesn't have the authority to regulate the internet....