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Google: Looking Out for #1 on Net Neutrality -- Analyzing its Competitive Implications

Google's self-interested proposal with Verizon on net neutrality legislation publicly spotlighted to many for the first time, Google's Machiavellian manipulation of Washington for competitive advantage, i.e. proactively seeking regulation of Google's competitors while ensuring Google remains unfettered by any regulation.

  • Net neutrality activists are now shocked, shocked, that after five years of brilliantly portraying the starring role of the too-good-to-believe "don't be evil" corporate organizer and benefactor of net neutrality, that Google ultimately would just take care of itself, and prove that net neutrality was simply a shrewd means to an end -- best positioning Google to dominate Internet information distribution.
  • The movement's most lovable lambkin, has been unmasked as a capitalist wolf in sheep clothing.

This piece will analyze: why Google surprised everyone; what's in this for Google; and why many like Skype, eBay, Facebook, and the TV business, should be very concerned with Google's Machiavellian positioning here.

Let's deconstruct the Google-Verizon net neutrality proposal from Google's perspective.

Most have completely missed the most important thing Google wanted out of this proposal -- asymmetric regulation -- that "The FCC would have exclusive authority to oversee broadband Internet access service, but would not have any authority over Internet software applications, content or services." [Bold added] Translation: The FCC can oversee them, but not Google.

  • At core, as a search monopoly that routinely discriminates non-neutrally in favor of Google-owned content over competitors' content and that publicly opposes search neutrality, Google negotiated that all competitive broadband providers, who have been operating neutrally, should be subject to a mandatory net neutrality enforcement regime, but monopoly Google, which has long been operating non-neutrally, should be exempt.
  • Moreover, Google negotiated in the proposal that all competitive broadband providers, wireline and wireless, should be subject to mandated transparency, but that the Google's monopoly black box search engine/ad auction should not be subject to mandated transparency. 
    • Asymmetric access to information -- everything should be open and transparent to Google, but Google's opaque search discrimination should not have to be open and transparent to others -- is central to maintaining Google's artificial comparative advantage and ongoing dominance.  
    • There is no greater advantage in any game than requiring one's opponent to follow the rules, while exempting oneself from following the rules.

Did you wonder why Google agreed to net neutrality for wireline, but not for wireless? There are very good Machiavellian reasons for Google's epic net neutrality flip.  

First, Google has just recently become supremely confident that it is now firmly on path to lock up the mobile ad market -- so why regulate your own next big growth market?

Consider all that has happened in just the last three months. 

  • In the last two months, the activation rate of Google Android handsets has doubled from 100,000 a day to 200,000 a day according to Google.
  • In less than two years, Google's monopoly-search-subsidized/free Android operating system is now the fastest-growing mobile operating system in the world by far, activating ~200,000 Android handsets a day, meaning Google is on path to overtake Apple and RIM in mobile market share in only its first few years in the market.
  • Now Google owns 98% share of the mobile search market per Statcounter.
  • In late May, the FTC granted Google an open field to dominate the mobile advertising market, by inexplicably approving Google's acquisition of AdMob, instantaneously increasing Google's share of in-app mobile advertising from 25% to 75%!
  • On top of that, Google appears confident that the FTC is watching Google's back, given that the FTC is investigating Google's only potential major in-app mobile competitor, Apple (which happens to be a new entrant to the mobile ad market only this year), to make sure Apple can't challenge the FTC's ceding of mobile advertising market to Google.
  • Google CEO Eric Schmidt is so confident that Google has already locked up mobile, that he recently bragged to Fortune: "If we have a billion people using Android, you think we can't make money from that?"
  • Why so supremely confident? Google knows that Android gives Google two market power advantages that no one can compete with:
    • First, hundreds of millions of Google-tethered personal GPS tracking computers/devices that automatically connect users most intimate/immediate intentions to locational opportunity that only Google can fully exploit (because Google has leveraged its search market power to dominate online mapping services); and
    • Second, an Android operating system platform that Google can much more quickly and efficiently vertically enhance with more Google search-monopoly-subsidized products and services than anyone competitor could ever match because Google has exclusive access to the underlying usage data for supply and demand necessary to do so.
      • (A little light bulb should be going off in the heads of potential investors in Skype's pending IPO. Long term, with Google angling for no wireless net neutrality, Google obviously has Skype in its crosshairs and plans to leverage its eventual billion Android users to disintermediate Skype. Google has played Skype like a fiddle; Skype's biggest competitive threat is not non-neutral competitive broadband providers, but a non-neutral monopoly Google effectively tying Google Voice to Android.)
      • (Along this same train of thought, eBay's Paypal should be squirming at the prospect that hundreds of millions of Google Android devices practically will be tied to, or better integrated with, Google Checkout, so that Google beats eBay's PayPal in becoming the real global first-mover electronic wallet application.)
      • (And Facebook should be worried about being headed off at the mobile social networking/gaming pass with a Mobile-powered "Google Me" based service that increasingly disintermediates Facebook with its mobile market power of superior locational awareness and functionality, and with usage data from Google-allied Zynga games, given that games are a strategic source of traffic (~30%) and monetization for Facebook.)
      • (Skype, eBay, and Facebook should remember the anguished words of betrayal spoken by fellow former Google net neutrality ally, IAC/Expedia Chairman Barry Diller, who is getting badly disintermediated by Google with Google's ITA acquisition:  
        • “I think it is disturbing that Google is moving into serving individual spaces, rather than being search neutral,” “It is a dangerous step because it is inevitably going to cause problems with customers and regulatory authorities,”  per the FT.)

  • Why does Google see no need for wireless net neutrality from their perspective? Duh. Why get in one's own way? Why mess up a sweetheart situation?

Second, then why would it be in Google's interests to impose wireline net neutrality enforcement?

Google has two grand schemes motivating its plans for the wireline infrastructure, cloud computing and Google TV.

  • While broadband is currently an unregulated information service (unless the FCC badly overreaches this fall by declaring broadband Title II), Google is well aware that telecom and cable companies remain under key legacy regulations (like universal service and navigation devices) that are ripe for new arbitrage where Google can get regulators to hurt their competitors and help/subsidize Google.
  • Shackling just wireline networks with net neutrality enforcement obligations, comes with the implicit assumption that wireline broadband networks are not competitive, have market power, and are not constrained by wireless broadband competition -- assumptions that are not true, but are very helpful regulatory assumptions for Google to officially establish.

Cloud Computing: Google has long understood that wireline net neutrality was a fantastic way for Google to hugely pad their bottom line, by literally billions of dollars, by shifting most all the cost of their world-leading-bandwidth-consumption onto the backs of consumers and broadband providers. 

  • The ingenious and scandalous implication of the FCC's open Internet regulations is that they specifically propose that consumers can be charged more for more usage, but that applications and content providers like Google cannot.
    • The FCC's proposed concept of net neutrality is and effective back-door ban on a two-sided market where big application providers, like the cloud computing operations of Google and Amazon, shift most all of the bandwidth cost of their bandwidth heavy services onto everyone but themselves. 
    • So the practical effect of wireline net neutrality for cloud computing is first to commoditize conduit/bandwidth to subsidize cloud computing of Google and Amazon, while conveniently impeding broadband providers from competitive entry into cloud computing because one price for application/content providers could foreclose wholesale/retail price differentiation. 
    • Suffice it to say, net neutrality is effectively a tech industrial policy that effectively mandates consumers and broadband providers implicitly subsidize cloud computing providers -- massively.      

Navigation Devices: It is no coincidence that in April Google announced its Google TV vision with great fanfare at the same time the FCC was launching a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for competitive availability of navigation devices.

  • To cut to the quick, Google is angling for special FCC rules that would position Google TV as the first-mover, universal remote for cloud-based TV, effectively disintermediating all multi-channel video programmers over time.
  • Simply, Google's gambit for Google TV is to be what Google News is to newspapers and magazines. Their play is to be the users' first/default interface that can collect all the user video viewing data, so they can be the only one that can effectively microtarget ads to TV viewers, all while paying nothing incremental to the conduit provider for bandwidth or to the content provider for their content, because Google maintains everything on the "open" "neutral" Internet is supposed to be free.

In short, Google's self-serving and Machiavellian vision of an open Internet and net neutrality is a world of free bandwidth and content that Google alone is positioned to monetize effectively. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously signaled in 2006: "Our goal at Google is to have the strongest advertising network and all the world’s information.” 

  • The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times figured out late that the Google News disintermediation effect is a Google game of competitive death by millions of cuts, so they have finally erected paywalls to fight back against Google's Machiavellian rigged game.
  • Many authors and publishers have figured out very late that Google's disintermediation of books in the Google Book Settlement is a Google rigged competitive game of death by a millions of cuts.
  • The question is now whether all professional video producers, programmers and providers fully appreciate that Google TV represents a-tried-and-true Google competitive game of death by a million cuts. 
    • Just this summer at the famed media mogul confab at Sun Vallley, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was smug about the prospects of Google TV, per the WSJ:
      • "While playing up Google's cooperation with the media business, Mr. Schmidt did highlight one area where Google and other media companies don't yet see eye-to-eye: its recently announced Google TV service which allows users to watch cable and online programming through one interface. While Mr. Schmidt said companies at Sun Valley had told him they were interested in the idea, he felt they didn't quite understand the product."
        • "Most people here probably don't understand the full implications of a programmable television."

      • Mr. Schmidt is right, they don't. Most in the video industry do not realize that the Google/FCC vision of net neutrality, combined with the FCC's special Google TV navigation device proceeding, ultimately will enable Google to do to video, what Google has already done to newspapers and books.

While net neutrality activists/allies have long swooned in the rapture of Google's cool and romantic net neutrality embrace, they are now coming to their senses and beginning to fathom how deeply Google has played them, used them and moved on.  

  • Google's only looking out for #1...