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Google steps back from net neutrality, claims banning servers is 'industry standard'

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Google Fiber sign stock
Google Fiber sign stock

It looks like Google is starting to see that whole net neutrality thing a little differently now that it's in the business of providing internet service. In a response to the FCC this week, the company argued that it’s justified in prohibiting Google Fiber subscribers from running servers on their shiny new gigabit connections. The filing, originally reported by Wired, points to "policies of many major providers in the industry" such as Verizon and Comcast, all of which require pricier commercial service to operate a server. Google doesn’t yet offer an equivalent tier of service to its customers.

"You should not host any type of server using your Google Fiber connection."

The filing was prompted by a 2012 complaint in which a prospective customer argued that any computer serving files over the internet is acting as a server, asking the FCC to look into Google Fiber's terms of service. The terms state that "unless you have a written agreement … you should not host any type of server using your Google Fiber connection, use your Google Fiber account to provide a large number of people with Internet access, or use your Google Fiber account to provide commercial services to third parties."

Google's about-face follows years of public support for net neutrality principles, embodied in a 2010 legislative framework proposal it co-wrote with Verizon. In it, Google stated that broadband customers ought not to be prevented from "sending and receiving lawful content of their choice," "running lawful applications and using lawful services of their choice," and "connecting their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network or service."

Network management is meant to remedy congestion when it occurs

Harm to the network is the crux of Google’s argument, as it points to "reasonable network management" as the driving force behind its decision. It's essentially saying other users of its service would be adversely affected if their neighbors were serving a video streaming site from home. But as Wired points out, network management is meant to remedy congestion when it occurs, not pre-emptively single out potentially high-bandwidth applications.

While the language in Google’s filing ("any server") means that the company could potentially boot a user for hosting Minecraft or using a Slingbox, representatives have said that it doesn’t intend to go after the small fry. But people hoping Google would stand up for its open internet ideals after it became an ISP itself might be disappointed to find that it’s taking network management cues from the likes of Verizon and Cox.