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Akamai CEO sees opportunity in economic downturn

Sumner Lemon | March 9, 2009
With many companies cutting headcount and costs to weather the economic downturn, Akamai Technologies President and CEO Paul Sagan wants his sales team to spend more time with customers

Sagan: Yes, but there is an advantage to the Internet side. We saw record online shopping during Q4. In fact, the numbers show there was strong growth in Internet shopping even if the overall retail sector was weak because of the recession and the credit crunch, which is real. I won't pretend the Internet is living in some happy bubble, but I think what we're seeing is more and more people are saying whatever I'm going to do, I'm going to do it on the Internet.

Because the Internet is still a small percentage of total retail, it still has a huge opportunity to grow. Even though people are being much more cautious about spending in this environment, I expect to see people continue trying to grow their online channel. That's where the growth opportunities are and when we come out the other side, that's really what businesses are going to be using.

What are your thoughts on network neutrality? How do we maintain access to the Internet in a way that creates a level playing field between large companies and smaller players?

Sagan: It's a good question. Network neutrality is a term that's been used and abused. At the highest level, it means that a user should be to access anything of their choosing, subject to whatever copyright or subscription rules apply. It wouldn't necessarily be free, but you would have access to it and your Internet service provider wouldn't filter that in any way based on their own business goals or point of view. In general, I think that's an excellent idea.

On the other hand, it's been taken to the point where people say the network shouldn't manage itself: If I can have access to anything, how dare you do load balancing or filtering certain kinds of traffic? Sometimes that's also naive because if you want the network to work, you want it to be fault tolerant, and you want it to not get clogged, of course there has to be management tools applied to that. You don't want one bad actor abusing the system and crashing it for everybody else. I think the key is it needs to be transparent. People need to understand that you are managing the network to make sure it works the way you sold it or for some other reason. And that's where it's been a bit murky.

It's unclear whether Washington will act in an official way on this with the FCC commissioner coming in and unclear whether that's going to be required because a lot of what people are worried about, that network providers are going to put up all sorts of walls, seal off the Internet. That really hasn't happened, so people are watching but its unclear what will actually happen. There's certainly no legislation that's active now in that area, and as far as I know not even any new regulatory frameworks that are on the table. I think the whole economic stimulus program has distracted everybody.


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