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Who wins the net neutrality debate? Google, of course

Matt Hamblen | Nov. 17, 2014
In the debate over net neutrality, AT&T and Cisco are warning that fiber optic cable rollouts could be delayed -- and revenues lost -- if President Obama's recently proposed rules move ahead.

It also has rollouts in the works in Provo, Utah, and Austin, Tex., with potential others in 34 cities in nine metropolitan areas: Portland, Ore., San Jose, Calif., Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Antonio, Texas, Nashville, Charlotte, the Raleigh-Durhamarea and Atlanta.

Google plans to announce which cities get Google Fiber by the end of the year.

Fiber optic rollouts to stop?

In contrast, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his company would "pause" its deployment of fiber in 100 cities to get a better understanding of what the FCC's rules will look like.

Some AT&T critics said Stephenson is bluffing or never had those cities lined up for rollouts. Indeed, shortly after his remarks, AT&T's North Carolina President, Venessa Harrison, said the company will continue working on a Next Generation Network there. AT&T has signed contracts with several North Carolina municipalities, including Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Winston-Salem.

AT&T didn't respond to a request for more detailed comment on the status of other fiber optic rollouts in the U.S.

Google has also been very clear on its attitude about controlling content when it functions as an ISP. In a May blog post, Google Fiber officials said they don't throttle content to customers, as some other ISPs do, partly because Google has partnered with providers likeNetflix and Akamai to locate their content servers at various switching centers closer to customers. Google said it doesn't strike deals with the content providers to prioritize their video packets over others or "otherwise discriminate among Internet traffic."

Google said it doesn't charge for priority to video content because it saves money co-locating video servers closer to customers, rather than transporting it thousands of miles.

Google's model for its fiber optic rollout differs from that of AT&T, Verizon or others building fiber networks across vast areas of the nation to serve large and small companies as well as homes. "Google doesn't have the large, sunken national access network investments that AT&T and Verizon do, so it's a lot less threatening for Google to comply with the Obama-backed restrictions," said Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner.

"For Google, net neutrality really doesn't hurt them much and it might even help them if it keeps their content flowing," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

What the FCC must sort out

Many carriers and ISPs want the FCC to avoid regulating them like traditional telecommunications carriers. What they fear is that they'd be require to file formal requests with the FCC to modify their networks or change the services and products they offer.

"If Title II regulations existed in 2006 and 2007, do you really think Steve Jobs would have gotten the iPhone on AT&T?" Entner said. "With Title II regulation, you're not managing innovation. Everybody is fully aware that the business model for carriers is in flux, not just the technology they use."


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