The ‘End’ of the Internet? What Two-Tiered Service Actually Entails

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Despite mounting opposition, the Federal Communications Commission recently made a mark on the years-long net neutrality debate by endorsing a two-tiered internet system. Some are decrying this decision as the literal end to an open and free internet, while others claim that it will increase quality for all users. What is certain is that implementation of a two-tiered internet will greatly affect the experience for millions of users, many of whom rely on the internet to provide everything from news to entertainment. Whether these changes will be for the better or worse still remains a hotly contested subject.

What Is a Two-Tiered Internet?

Comprehending the two-tiered system can be challenging, especially in light of the numerous opinions on the matter. Unlike the current configuration, a two-tiered internet would allow service providers to charge content producers for faster access. Those customers paying for the premium service would be privy to this newly upgraded content, while those who do not upgrade will be relegated to the ‘public’ internet, which will return results at a much slower pace.

This system will allow certain content producers to take precedence over those who have not paid a premium. Conversely, those companies unable or unwilling to pay such premiums will find themselves stuck with slower speeds and less-than-impressive search results. This can have a huge impact on many small businesses and organizations, as well as those individuals who utilize popular blogging platforms for a variety of purposes.

What About Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that the internet should remain untouched by the influence of service providers. This has been the standard since the inception of the internet, and has helped create the user experience that many have become accustomed to over the ensuing years. A neutral internet means that virtually anyone can introduce content to the public sphere. While things like search engine optimization may affect visibility, this information is still accessible by millions of people on a daily basis.

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Proponents of net neutrality are cautioning that a two-tiered internet will have disastrous effects on this beloved medium, from winnowing unpopular political sentiment to putting the interests of advertisers and the like front and center. These changes will surely have an effect on the user experience, which up until this point has required a bit of savvy to successfully navigate the many diverse corridors of the internet. With the recent ruling, it seems that those in favor of net neutrality will be highly displeased by the coming changes.

Who Stands to Benefit From This System?

Corporate influence is a hot button issue these days, and not just when it comes to internet service. Every day large companies make historic gains in the world of politics and commerce; gains which many lament are bound to have a hefty price tag for the consumer. Internet access is a particularly volatile concern due to the open experience users have grown to love.

It’s no secret that corporations stand to benefit the most from this proposed two-tiered system. Telecommunication companies are in favor of the plan because it would allow them to charge customers for a higher level of service. In essence, this would create two internet experiences; one public and one private. People paying for the private service would be privy to only corporate-approved content. As a result, service providers would enjoy increased revenue from possibly millions of subscribers.

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While the opposition against a tiered internet can sometimes be deafening, some claim that this new system will improve the quality of content available on the internet. Those subscribing to the higher-end service will enjoy faster access, especially when it comes to videos and movies, which typically require more bandwidth. The level of content is also projected to improve, since producers must pay for inclusion within the higher-tier service.

What Are Some Drawbacks?

The biggest drawback of a tiered internet is the lack of accessibility to those items not on the ‘fast lane’ of service. As it stands now, the internet is an extremely democratic endeavor: a person or organization comes up with a good idea, submits it to the open market place, and the idea summarily sinks or swims based on the public response. This allows content to be judged on its merits, no matter the financial heft possessed by the creator.

With a pay system in place, only those with suitable financial resources can have their voices heard. Service providers may also be hesitant to provide access to those individuals or organizations creating controversial content, especially that which is critical of current business practices. In some instances, this may be a good thing. Offensive content will be less accessible to those who have no interest in seeing it. But, much like the debate regarding pornography, who should be in charge of deciding what content is worthy and what is not?

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Some allege that a tiered system will limit the viewpoint of the average consumer, many of whom get their daily news via the internet. Cable news networks often receive similar complaints, particularly when it comes to falling in line with corporate interests.

The Changing Landscape of the Internet

In its current inception, the internet is an open market place of ideas where anyone is free to contribute. While this can be highly fulfilling in a number of instances, it also results in a lot of unwanted and ill-conceived content. It would be similar to a TV station allowing anyone with an interest to direct programming. Such a system would most likely produce a smattering of quality content amidst a great deal of pointless filler.

A two-tiered system would remove much of this filler, but this removal would come at the expense of those worthwhile items. It would also prevent some users from accessing the upper tier of service due to financial constraints. Much like cable TV, not everyone can afford the requisite monthly bills to enjoy premium service. While this certainly wouldn’t spur the downfall of the internet, it could create a gap between the two user groups.

Whatever one’s ultimate opinion, implementation of a two-tiered internet would completely alter the way the world interacts with this vital technology. Such a shift would standardize the internet, making the medium hew closer to things like TV and radio. While this would surely improve some aspects of web browsing, it might also remove the magic inherent in a free and open internet.

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