In an apparent capitulation to net neutrality supporters, Google has quietly loosened the terms of service of its Google Fiber broadband network to allow customers to run personal servers in some cases.
Google Fiber's new acceptable use policy (AUP) explicitly permits customers to host some types of servers on their connections, provided they aren't running them as a business. To wit:
... personal, non-commercial use of servers that complies with this AUP is acceptable, including using virtual private networks (VPN) to access services in your home and using hardware or applications that include server capabilities for uses like multi-player gaming, video-conferencing, and home security.
That's a significant change from the Chocolate Factory's original policy, which made no bones about the fact that customers' gigabit fiber lines – which have been described as the fastest internet service in the US – were good for browsing the web and
downloading copyrighted movies watching YouTube, but not much else.
Under the old language, Google Fiber customers were told they "should not host any type of server" on their connections without a written agreement from Google.
That rather draconian ban raised the ire of net neutrality advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which described such policies as "a power grab by ISPs that damages user freedom and chills innovation of different types of Internet-based technologies that don't follow the traditional centralized model."
Net neutrality activist Douglas McClendon went as far as to file a complaint [PDF] with the US Federal Communications Commission, in which he alleged that Google's terms and conditions violated FCC rules.
In its response to that complaint, Google argued that there was nothing unusual about its usage policy, and that the prohibition on servers was there to ensure that the advertising giant could manage its network bandwidth:
Google Fiber's server policy is prototypical "reasonable network management," with no discriminatory impact on any content, application, or service provider. The server policy has been established to account for the congestion management and network security needs of Google Fiber's network architecture, particularly given that Google Fiber does not impose data caps on its users.
Google's updated usage policy more or less sticks to this idea – customers still aren't allowed use the service for activities that "adversely impact others' enjoyment of the Services" – but at least it acknowledges that not every server will overload a gigabit connection.
In an email to El Reg, EFF staff technologist Dan Auerbach said the group was pleased to see Google Fiber opening up a bit, but that it would still like to see Google loosen its terms even more.
It is encouraging to see Google Fiber clarify in its T&C that users can run servers for personal use, as this gives users the freedom to run applications that improve privacy and security, among other uses. However, restricting to "non-commercial" uses is still problematic, since creative new business ideas that take advantage of fast home Internet service potentially still could be found to violate the T&C.
Meanwhile, other internet providers have begun building out competing services that may offer more favorable terms for customers who want to run servers. Most recently, AT&T has begun touting its "U-verse with GigaPower" gigabit network that will soon go live in Austin, Texas, and it has been advertising the services to both residential and business customers. Google, by comparison, still has no broadband offering for businesses. ®