Google denies changing net neutrality policy

Google has denied reports it has abandoned its support for net neutrality, following reports the company has been in discussions with US operators over the possibility of prioritizing Google traffic.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the company has proposed operators create a 'fast lane' for Google content.

But writing on the company blog, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt said instead that the search firm was exploring the possibility of introducing edge caching.

'Some critics have questioned whether improving Web performance through edge caching violates the concept of network neutrality. This myth is based on a misunderstanding of the way in which the open Internet works,' he said.

'Our commitment to that principle of net neutrality remains as strong as ever.'

Net neutrality is a hangover from the days of voice-only networks when no telephone number was allowed preferential treatment over another. By default, it became a tenet of the internet as a mass medium, but the WSJ says, '[net neutrality] is quietly losing powerful defenders'.

If the US does make any move to abandon network neutrality, it will bring it into direct confrontation with the European Union, whose commissioner in charge of telecom, Viviane Reding, is whole-heartedly in support of it - as her speech in September showed.

Microsoft and Yahoo have surreptitiously withdrawn from the coalition formed two years ago to protect network neutrality and forge relationships with telcos and cable companies, the WSJ says.

Phone and cable network operators have long argued that internet content providers should be obliged to share in their operating costs, particularly as internet traffic is thought to be growing by more than 50% annually, driven mainly by the proliferation of online video.

Operators say they need new sources of revenue to pay for the necessary upgrade to their networks to handle the surge in traffic, and charging content providers for faster speeds is one option.

According to the WSJ report, at the moment many large ISPs are afraid of contravening the Federal Communications Commission's guidelines, which support network neutrality. However, AT&T and Verizon, among others have said they will create internet fast lanes and charge content providers a fee to use it.

The WSJ said President-Elect Obama professed commitment to network neutrality a year ago, at Google's campus in Mountain View, California, saying, 'The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history, and we have to keep it that way. I will take a back seat to no-one in my commitment to network neutrality.'