Oh no! Google has killed net neutrality! Again! Last time, in 2010, the search giant betrayed the net neutrality movement by collaborating with Verizon to propose a net neutrality framework to the US FCC. This time, Google has killed it off by striking a deal to pay France Telecom-Orange to deliver its traffic to ISPs in France.
Net neutrality proponents have been duly freaking out. And like last time, it's looking like a lot of dithering over nothing.
The FT-Orange deal - which was actually signed a year ago - was revealed by CEO Stephane Richard in a TV interview, who said he'd managed to get Google to pay him money to carry its traffic in France. He didn't say how much, but according to reports, he allegedly pulled it off thanks to the fact that Orange has major smartphone presence in Africa, a market that Google needs to tap to reach Android users there.
Tech blogger site GigaOM rained down the shame on Google, accusing Google of betraying its own net neutrality principles, and setting a dangerous precedent for every other web content provider - if FT-Orange can force Google to pay for priority traffic, it can force others to do the same.
But the impact of the Google/FT-Orange deal on net neutrality depends on the details of the agreement - and right now, no one knows what those details are apart from Google and FT-Orange. People are making a lot of assumptions based on a throwaway comment Richard made in a TV interview. For all we know, he's making a bigger deal out of it than it is.
Rob Powell of Telecom Ramblings has put forth a reasonably educated guess as to the nature of the deal. Namely, it may be nothing more than a standard IP transit or peering deal with a protectionist twist - FT/Orange managed to convince Google to pay for peering with the incumbent telco instead of an international backbone player (in this case, Cogent).
If that's the case, it's not so much the end of net neutrality as some savvy deal-making on FT-Orange's part to win business from a competitor.
Either way, Google has yet to make any kind of public statement about Richard's comments. FT-Orange hasn't said anything about it since the interview was aired, but on the company website you'll find the official company position on net neutrality, which is this: "the public internet must be open and É traffic management, necessary for the effective function of the network, must be non-discriminatory in effect."
So, based on the information made pubic so far, I'm inclined to assume the Google/FT-Orange story is business as usual.
Killing the internet
Still, the kerfluffle over the news does serve as a reminder that net neutrality and the model of the open internet remain such sensitive topics for some that even the hint of a shift away from net neutrality raises fears of The Destruction of the Internet.
We saw a similar freak-out in the run up to December's WCIT-12 summit in Dubai, in which the ITU updated the International Telecommunication Regulations treaty. Net neutrality proponents and American politicians alike were worried sick that the ITU would approve proposals by a handful of delegates to take over administration and regulation of the Internet from ICANN.
In the end, the final document only mentioned the internet once - in the appendix (which is non-binding), by way of a one-page resolution that basically said members were free to state their feelings about internet-related issues at future ITU forums if they felt like it. And that alone was so noxious that the US staged a walkout, and 55 countries refused to sign it.
That's where we are in 2013, I suppose. The first rule about net neutrality is: you do not talk about net neutrality. Unless you're in favor of it.