Are huge Web companies buying their way out of net neutrality?

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No company's Internet traffic is supposed to get priority over another's—but enough money can change that.

For those of you who believe in net neutrality, the practice of insulating the Internet against the influence of private corporations and making certain a user’s connection speed isn’t dependent on his or her tax bracket, we’ve got some bad news for you. 

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, large corporations including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are paying major ISPs to get faster connections. 

That could mean, quite simply, if you don’t use these companies, with their greased rails, your Internet connection might suck. Worse than usual, that is. But there are other implications as well. 

Netflix, whose need for big tubes in that series of tubes is obvious, has been trying to get broadband companies to allow them to connect specialized equipment to reduce the stutter in Web video. The reaction from those companies? Pay us. 

Already Comcast receives $25-30 million per year for expedited access—a fast lane, let’s say. Not a huge amount given the size of the company, in fact about 0.1 percent of its yearly revenues, but a clear precedent.

But isn’t this the very thing the U.S. government’s “open Internet” rules guard against? Only in spirit. The letter of the law remains quite unravished. 

Current Federal Communications Commission rules disallow the prioritizing of one company’s traffic over another on a given provider’s "last mile" of line into a consumer’s home. The rest of the route seems to resemble the Wild West, the rules for which are vague at best. 

It isn’t just consumer choice that is limited when net neutrality is abandoned, say its proponents. It also raises the barriers to entry for new online companies. This issue is likely to grow more urgent as more and more companies compete to bring on-demand entertainment to consumers’ homes, with estimates of Internet video doubling by 2017. 

H/T Motherboard | Photo by Kaleb Fulghan/Flickr 

Hey ISPs, what's wrong with speed?
By MICHAEL WEINBERG When Internet service providers (ISPs) charged by the minute back in the days of dial-up, every second that you spent online needed to count. Remember those days of hoarding the ticking minutes and seconds, imagining our monthly bill growing with every log on? Thankfully many online users today won’t, because eventually customers revolted against the per-minute pricing plans—thereby ushering in an era of exploration, experimentation, and growth online.
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