The Master Switch and the Hyper Giant: Google's Infrastructure and Network Neutrality Strategy in the 2000s
19 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2014 Last revised: 3 Sep 2014
Date Written: August 14, 2014
During the first decade of the 2000s, Google Inc., a global information company historically unprecedented in scope and influence, was a strong proponent of the principle of network neutrality, the notion that all Internet traffic should be treated more or less equally. In his 2010 book The Master Switch, Tim Wu argued that network neutrality was critical to Google’s viability as a business; without it, any Internet service provider might act as a “master switch” and limit the search engine’s access to both content and customers. Yet in 2010, the company’s strong support for what it had called the “open Internet” appeared to diminish, first through a series of joint policy statements with telecommunications giant Verizon, and then by a seeming withdrawal from the network neutrality policy debate. During this same period, Google poured enormous resources into the creation of one of the world’s largest technological infrastructures, a global system of over one million servers connected by both the public Internet and Google’s own global network.
This working paper examines the extent to which Google’s massive infrastructure has allowed the company to mitigate the danger of an ISP master switch. Using data drawn from documentary evidence and technical analysis of Google’s network topology we present a high-level view of the company’s infrastructure and the affordances it provides. We suggest that Google’s infrastructure drastically reduced the company’s reliance on the public Internet, while allowing Google to build strong interdependencies with Internet service providers. Drawing on Labovitz’s notion of the hyper giant, we argue that Google and other large Internet content and service providers transcended the traditional “content versus carrier” dichotomy that was a key component of the network neutrality debate of the 2000s.
Keywords: Internet Governance, Google, network neutrality, network mapping, infrastructure, business strategy
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