Recently, telecoms like BellSouth and AT&T have been suggesting that the Internet status quo must change. Right now, phone companies are required to provide the same level of service to all Web sites – no matter how large or small. This means that a site maintained by IBM loads at the same speed as a Web page created by widget.net.
Telecom executives would like to start charging Web sites for preferred access to their communications networks. If you pay up, your site will enter the Internet fast lane.
Experience has taught us that Internet users are a fickle lot. If a site loads too slowly, people don’t stick around very long. Creating Internet toll booths could create a system where sites created by those with deep pockets would consistently out-perform “mom and pop” Web pages.
The Implications: Will Internet Toll Booths = Less Innovation?
Steve Rubel has noted that the center of gravity in the social marketplace is shifting from the blogosphere to other user-created content spaces (e.g., YouTube.com, etc.). If Rubel is correct, Internet sites will gobble up ever-increasing amounts of bandwidth. Phone companies want to be compensated for supporting heavy Internet traffic. Will innovative up-and coming Web sites be shortchanged if they don’t pay the telecom piper?
The Implications: Will Internet Toll Booths = Less Access To Healthcare Information?
As you read this post, patients are turning to the Internet (i.e., corporate Websites, blogosphere) for healthcare information. They then share the medical information they find on the Web with their physicians. This is wonderful because those armed with corporate, government and consumer generated content can participate more fully in healthcare decision-making. Will Internet toll booths cut off the flow of valuable healthcare information and negatively impact the patient-physician relationship?
The Internet: A Public Good That Deserves Protection
Now, I have nothing against companies making a buck. However, the Internet is a valuable public good that deserves protection. From a microeconomic perspective, is the social cost associated with putting a price tag on broadband access just too high?
Fellow bloggers, what do you think?