The network neutrality debate really started up in the States in 2005, with then AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, envious of Google ad revenue, oddly declaring that Google should pay a surcharge to AT&T, well, just because. Ed proclaimed to the world that Google "ain't gonna use my pipes free." Telco execs, in their protected monopoly kingdoms, have become used to getting their way -- and truly believe Google ad revenue belongs to them.
But Google also poses an evolutionary threat the likes these companies have never seen before. These are companies that grew comfortable sucking down regulatory favors, taxpayer subsidies and tax cuts while operating in non-competitive markets. Suddenly, increasingly ubiquitous broadband allows companies like Google to enter their telecom space, offering products like Google Voice that threaten sacred cash cows
like SMS and voice minutes.
Google has been telco public enemy number one ever since, and instead of competing and out-innovating the pesky upstart, the phone companies did what they do best: they started lobbying against Google, and started paying people to attack the search giant at every opportunity. While Google's no saint, the telco attacks are usually quite silly (did you know they hate nuns?
), and almost always focus somehow around Ed Whitacre's nonsensical original idea that Google gets a "free ride" on the Internet.
It doesn't matter that Google pays plenty for bandwidth, and owns thousands of miles of fiber, data centers and undersea transit routes. The telcos simply ignore these facts and continue the "free ride" attacks, sometimes via pseudo-science. For instance, paid telco attack dog
Scott Cleland recently published a 27 page "study"
painting Google as a bandwidth freeloader, yet across 27 pages Cleland barely acknowledges the impact of Google's own massive telecom infrastructure. No matter how it's dressed, the argument that Google doesn't pay for bandwidth, gets a free ride, or should pay ISPs a single cent extra -- never made sense.
Of course part of what the telcos want is to please investors by conning content companies (who again, already pay for bandwidth) into subsidizing ISP network expansion. This again is an entitlement mindset that originates among monopoly providers, pampered by governments for a generation (in some cases, several). ISPs in the UK for years have been whining that the BBC should pay ISPs extra money
because paying customers like their iPlayer. Why? Giants like British Telecom feel entitled. They've been pampered, subsidized, and supported so long by government, incumbent telco executives have forgotten how to actually compete.
Spanish ISL Telefonica is now the latest to try this absurd approach, Telefonica's President Cesar Alierta insisting that his company too would like Google to pay extra money -- just because. From ABC News
Spanish telecoms operator Telefonica says it is considering charging Internet search companies like Google and Yahoo for network use. In comments published Monday from a press conference in the northern city of Bilbao, President Cesar Alierta said companies like Google use a lot of network bandwidth for free, something which was good for them but not for Telefonica.
Does it help to repeatedly state that Google isn't getting a free ride? Apparently not. Yet as Techdirt notes, ISPs never seem keen to take on the challenge of paying Google's bandwidth bills for a month
to test the width and depth of their absurd talking point. The "free ride" argument was idiotic in 2005 when Ed Whitacre confusingly coined it, it was idiotic in 2007 when British Telecom used it against the BBC, and it continues to be idiotic in 2010 as Telefonica tries to con people into thinking they deserve to double dip. It gets no less idiotic through endless global repetition or the use of bogus science.