Why Google Should Oppose Net Neutrality

A recent article in The Financial Times titled “Net Neutrality Comes Back to Haunt Google” demonstrates why Google should stand on principle in its business practices and should give one pause in advocating Net Neutrality.

Many in the tech industry advocate Net Neutrality, which is the idea that all traffic transferred over the Internet should be treated equally with all other traffic. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner are most people’s conduits to the Internet. Net Neutrality would force ISPs from throttling or prioritizing traffic through their networks. For example, some ISPs have slowed down or blocked certain types of traffic (or even prioritized other types of traffic), such as heavy users or traffic transferred by certain applications such as those involved in illegal file sharing or voice over IP data transferred by applications like Skype.

Before you jump in and say whether that’s good or bad for customers, consider that these companies own these networks and as such, it is their right to set the terms for their service. If customers do not receive the quality or quantity of service they want, they are free to select another provider (or no provider). They do not have the right to dictate how ISPs must run their service.

Google has advocated Net Neutrality, according to the article, because they believe the lack of Net Neutrality will hurt their business. But now they are under fire on a new front but up against the very principle they have been advocating. Some now want to regulate search results on the Internet, and dictate how Google must rank their search results.

Why? Google has “too much power,” the argument goes, with respect to sending traffic to sites on the Web. They determine who gets placed and how high up Web sites are shown in search results. A small change in search engine positioning can make or break a business, and an entire industry has been borne around search engine optimization (seo) by businesses in order to exploit the value Google has created for Web publishers.

But it is Google that has created the value of search in the first place, and to dictate how they must run their business is a violation of their rights and an attempt to expropriate the value they did not earn by that which they did not create.

Google commands such “power” because it has won customers over in terms of the value of their search engine. From recipes to song lyrics to news articles to photographs, Google will help you find the most relevant content on the Web in the most convenient way possible to you. That is their purpose and that is the core of their business, and they have won customers over by being the best at it and, as a result, earned the position of the dominant player in the market.

But to force Google to modify their search results by force will destroy this value, and that is exactly what proponents of “Search Neutrality” desire. They want to make Google give results to customers according to their standards and whims, and determine how search should be optimized, not by the free choice of customers (such as by creating a competing search engine that is better than Google that customers want to use), but at the point of a gun. How did Google gain the dominant position in the marketplace? Blank out. They just are, and they want a piece of it–a piece they did not earn and cannot win legitimately.

That same threat is currently being faced by ISPs by telling them how they must run their business. Google had better wise up to the principle involved here and defend ISPs rights and oppose Net Neutrality, or they won’t have a moral foundation to stand on when regulators come after them as their next target.