How an Internet ‘Toll Road’ Could Destroy Net Neutrality

By Kimberlee Morrison 


As services like Netflix account for more of our bandwidth usage online, the idea of a ‘toll road’ has begun to pop up. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler believes that it’s up to the marketplace to decide these things, but in 2010 the FCC threw its weight behind behind a more open internet.

The basic concept of an internet toll road is that internet service providers would dedicate more of their bandwidth to certain high-demand or data-hungry services. While this may sound like a reasonable idea, many fear other services would be downgraded in favor of the more profitable, premium internet service.

What if, for instance, Google decided to bias the Fibre network toward YouTube videos? The improved quality of YouTube might lure users away from other video sites. The possibility for abuse comes in when other services start to suffer, directly or indirectly. And if Google started to slow the data other services, like Vimeo, there’s the potential to kill the competition without ever having to make its own service better.

Ars Technica readers responded to Wheeler’s statements and a few saw the brighter side of Wheeler’s comments. “The way I interpreted the statement was that services who have an interest in a dedicated connection (Netflix, high-bandwidth video-conferencing providers) would be able to buy such a dedicated, high-speed connection,” wrote posullivan.

Others saw the issue being one of the whittling down of the FCC’s open internet position. bburdge pointed out that Wheeler’s statements contradicted the FCC’s position, but it was couched in a way that people would understand. “Yes, net neutrality is great, I fully support it, really important. But you know, paying extra for premium service is not a big deal right, we do it all the time […]”

According to Michael Weinberg, the VP of Public Knowledge, an organization that works to preserve the open web, this “pay-for-play” internet is exactly what net neutrality is intended to prevent. “ISP subscribers are not hostages to be auctioned off to web services,” he wrote. “In order for this type of ‘fast lane’ to make sense there needs to be a ‘slow lane.'”

Indeed, most users would object to having their favorite service throttled down by their ISP.

Image credit: woodleywonderworks