Google, like many other tech giants, has been expanding in various directions lately, from hardware (wearable computing, home automation, cars) to services such as video streaming or becoming an ISP.
It sometimes feels like these companies go in various directions, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, but in this case I want to believe Google know very well what they’re doing with Google Fiber.
It all boils down to two concepts that we keep hearing about these days: Video streaming, and Net neutrality.
Net neutrality is a concept that states that internet providers should treat all data transiting through their network without discrimination. It is not a law in general, but a principle that has ruled the internet since its inception, a “gentlemen’s agreement” between Internet providers, content owners, etc…
Long story short, it basically guarantees that your ISP will not make Netflix traffic slower than their own movie platform, or that they will not ask you to pay a different subscription if you want to watch youtube. There’s a good reason I chose Netflix and youtube in these examples: Video streaming is at the center of the war to change the implicit rules of Net neutrality: The “unlimited bandwidth” contracts we all have were created in days where people downloading more than 100MB a day were an exception. Today, it’s not rare for anyone to go above 1GB a day after watching a few episodes of their favorite drama on Netflix.
As a result, news about this or that ISP throttling Netflix or Youtube traffic are more and more frequent. Netflix made it to the news recently by signing a contract with Comcast, enforcing Netflix to pay a fee to Comcast in order to guarantee a decent bandwidth, shattering the Net Neutrality gentleman’s agreement. Recent tests showed that people who got a VPN or DNS redirector saw increased performance on Netflix, indicating that maybe some ISPs were throttling Netflix traffic.
Google have strong interest in Net neutrality, as a service provider: they need the Internet to be fast, because fast page loading means ads load faster too, and I’m sure they have good metrics showing how much this means to them. But, maybe more importantly, Google is becoming a major Video Streaming competitor, with Youtube of course, but more recently with Google Play.
Google also have tools that help them “predict the future“. Well, not really, but they surely have access to enough of world’s data that they can probably see the winds of change: If net Neutrality is going down, it’s likely that Google want to get ready for this. What better solution than becoming an ISP themselves? If Net neutrality is a thing of the past, Google Fiber will let them approach the issue in either one of the following ways:
- Full speed guaranteed on Google play content. If Google provide a good fiber offer, this could let Google Play movies gain some momentum against the competition: Netflix doesn’t own its own network infrastructure, and their costs will skyrocket, having to pay every single Internet provider to guarantee good bandwidth.
- The only ISP that respects Net neutrality. This could be the opposite approach as the one above: Google could lead the way in being a “safe haven” for content providers (including Netflix?), and the ISP of choice for customers.
Google becoming an ISP could be extremely good… for Google themselves, as we see the principles of Net neutrality being slowly destroyed and they could leverage this for their own video streaming services. What’s less sure is if the result would be good for customers in the long run…