World Wide Grab? Game theorists see mixed outcomes from abandoning a founding tenet of the Internet


As a computer user, you pay an Internet service provider or ISP for access to the Internet, and you pay extra for faster speeds. But website owners don’t pay ISPs anything to deliver their content to you. Why not?

That’s what ISPs such as Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T would like to know. And change.

There would be pluses and minuses to letting them, according to a study by three information-technology researchers, including Hong Guo of Mendoza College’s IT management faculty.

The researchers say the extra revenue in ISPs’ pockets could lead them to offer cheaper, even free Internet service to consumers. About 26 million Americans live in areas lacking broadband access, according to a 2011 Federal Communications Commission report.

But the IT researchers also warn that letting ISPs charge to carry content would likely depress website creation, and it would reduce ISPs’ incentive to improve speed and reliability.

As Guo and company explain in a recent journal article, the principal obstacle to ISPs making money off of websites is an egalitarian principle called net neutrality.

Dating to the Internet’s founding, net neutrality holds that no government or ISP should be allowed to restrict access to the Internet. People should be able to connect any way they like and consume as much bandwidth as they like. Net neutrality also mandates that every website compete on an equal footing when it comes to sending packets of data over the ever-more-crowded information super highway.

The ISPs want to offer a premium service to website owners. For a fee, they would guarantee faster transmissions with fewer interruptions over the so-called “last mile” of the Internet. That’s the piece the ISPs control, from the service provider’s local office to customers’ homes or offices.

CONTINUED: World Wide Grab?
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