In a rather ironic twist, Google now finds itself on the receiving end of a “neutrality” flap. It’s ironic because Google has long lobbied for something called “net neutrality.” If you look at Google’s Public Policy blog you’ll see they’ve published 22 posts on the topic to date.
When you strip away all the emotion and hype, net neutrality is basically a fight about whether or not (and how much) the government should regulate how internet service providers (ISP’s) provide access to the internet.
When I first heard about net neutrality years ago it was presented from the perspective that ISP’s like Comcast & AT&T were on the verge of blocking any business that didn’t pay them a fee to get access to their customers. Now since I was (and still am) a small web entrepreneur and net neutrality was supposed to ensure that never happened, I thought it sounded like a pretty good idea.
But the more I see how thoroughly the government seems to mess up most everything it touches, the less inclined I am to see increased government regulation of the internet as a good thing, regardless of what it’s called.
Google and Neutrality
As I mentioned, Google has lobbied long and hard in favor of government regulation of the ISP’s via net neutrality. And it makes sense from their perspective.
Google is a web service provider. Anything that potentially hinders people from being able to access their services hurts their business. And Google’s business is entirely dependent on the ISP’s maintaining the status quo. If the government can guarantee things won’t change, all the better for Google.
I suspect that’s a big part of the reason Google, and Google’s top executives, were so active in support of the current presidential administration – basic good business sense.
Ah, the Irony
Now, however, there’s stirrings about “search neutrality.” The argument goes something like this.
Google has an effective monopoly on search. Therefore we need the government to regulate what they do because they sometimes do some seemingly arbitrary things that are unfair to some folks.
Well Google recently explained why search neutrality is a bad idea on their public policy blog. You know, the that’s the blog with all those articles in favor of net neutrality.
In spite of the irony, I think their arguments are sound. And I also thing they are just as good reasons why net neutrality is a bad idea as well. And they boil down to three main points.
1. Who decides what’s fair?
Generally speaking it’s better to have marketplace competition decide what’s fair rather than the politics of government regulation.
2. Standardized public “rules” are easier to circumvent.
This is especially true when it comes to technology. Publish the search algorithms and they instantly get taken advantage of by those who are looking to game the system.
By the way this is also the same concept behind, “outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns.” I’m just saying.
3. It removes profit incentive for improvement.
Yep. If the biggest business requirement is to meet the government mandated standards then there is no longer any incentive to innovate. Why spend money on R&D, or building out higher capacity infrastructure, if there is no chance to earn profits as a result?
Here’s my take. Let’s keep the government out of both the internet and the search engines. Let the market continue to run free so that we can continue to have tremendous innovation online.