Google Bandwidth Study Proves Very Little

by on December 4, 2008 · 24 comments

Precursor LLC released a study that claims to have calculated Google’s total bandwidth use declaring “Google uses 21 times more bandwidth than it pays for.”

The study is an attempt to foil Google’s pursuit of Net Neutrality as a federal policy by claiming that Google is already a kind of free-rider and its policy goals will only allow it to mooch more.

The study estimates the total bandwidth “used” by Google in a circuitous way.  It calculates the bandwidth Google-originating data uses while traveling around the web, adds that to bandwidth used by search bots sending data back to Google, then assigns a dollar value to that bandwidth, and then compares that to an estimate of Google’s total outlays for bandwidth (a number which had to estimated as Google does not disclose this number).

The result: Google doesn’t pay for all the bandwidth used by data flowing in and out of its servers.

But this is true for any site on the web!

Bandwidth is paid for by two sides of each transaction, so of course Google can’t pay for all the bandwidth it uses.  Google pays for all sorts of connections to its many data centers to get their data out there, but consumers also pay to receive that traffic.  In between Google and consumers lies the vast network of networks known as “the Internet” and as data changes hands bandwidth charges are levied and re-levied.

Saying that Google doesn’t pay for all of the bandwidth it uses is like saying that Best Buy doesn’t pay for all the gas it takes to get electronics to consumer homes.  After all, people have to drive to the store to buy them. But no one claims Best Buy is exploiting the American highway system.  This kind of claim would be nonsense.

In any complex, multi-layed distribution system costs will be spread across multiple parties.  Elaborate accounting of how much one business benefits from this sort of thing proves very little.

It’s also important to remember the other free-riders involved in this equation, namely the end users.  How much have you paid Google to search the net?  Zero.

Or, perhaps the cost of Google searches are built-in to your bill from your ISP.  This isn’t because Google burdens an ISP, but because Google makes their product of an Internet connection more valuable, by making the Internet more usable.

I’m sympathetic to those who don’t want Network Neutrality enshrined into law.  As Tim Lee, a fellow TLFer and Cato Institute scholar, has pointed out, we don’t need a law to have net neutrality.  Tim’s study, “The Durable Internet,” does a much better job of making this case than any accounting of Google’s bandwidth use.

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