Question: I keep hearing about a two-tiered Internet. What is that?
Brian Getting: Two-tiered Internet refers to the attempt by major telecommunication companies, who provide the infrastructure for Internet communications, to send information across the Internet in two separate speeds, or tiers. One tier would be faster than the other and would apply to content sent by the telecommunication companies themselves and by other large firms, such as Microsoft, Google and YouTube, who would presumably pay fees to the TelCos for this faster transmission. The slower, second tier would then be for companies and individuals who are sending information via the Internet but choose not to pay extra fees for faster transmissions.
The telecommunication-company executives contend that since they are spending billions of dollars to improve upon and build new networks that can carry more data, they should be able to use the bulk of that bandwidth to offer their own services and, also, to charge others for higher-speed access. They contend that the increased revenue will encourage more network development, and help them to achieve their goal of providing high-speed Internet access to everyone.
However, the idea is meeting resistance from online content providers like Microsoft and Google. These providers content that the proposal means the telecommunication companies could provide their own (competing) content and deliver that content more quickly and with richer features than what would be available on the “standard,” or second tier. The result could be a choice, for any individual or company, between utilizing the second-tier services or paying the extra fees to have information distributed via the better, faster tier one. Critics of the proposal argue that consumers pay for specific quantities of bandwidth and consumers should be able to use that bandwidth however they want.
More importantly, at least in my estimation, is the idea that there could be preference given to particular content on the Internet. We could have an online caste system that consists of those who can afford to pay the premium rate, which will give their content network priority, and those that cannot afford it.
Suppose that individuals or companies who utilize the next big online trend, such as blogging or podcasting, cannot afford the fees of the higher tier. The “premium” content provider could overshadow their offerings. This threatens consumer choice, in my view.
Gone would be the day, potentially, where Internet service providers treat all companies and all Internet traffic with neutrality and equality. Consumers could no longer rely on consistent access to goods, services and content regardless of what Internet service provider they use.
Smaller ecommerce businesses could be caught-up in this, too. These businesses compete against larger, more established, companies, who perhaps could pay a fee for faster, better transmission to the detriment of a smaller merchant, who presumably could not pay such a fee.
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