Is an internet 'fast lane' inevitable?

The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

The recently-announced plans by chairman Tom Wheeler and the FCC to create an internet "fast lane" have been met by a great deal of skepticism from those who worry that large companies could pay to speed past the competition. But Christopher Yoo, professor of Law, Communication, and Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that offering a pricing system for internet speed makes sense.

Yoo points to the varying services one can pay for when sending a package. If a package can take longer to get somewhere, you pay less. But if the arrival date is imperative, then you should pay more.

"If you force everything into a single class of service, you would force people who would have been willing to take slower service to pay more, and you would deny people really fast service the ability to get it at any price."

Others believe that the internet should be re-classified by the FCC as a common carrier. Yoo argues that in light of recent Supreme Court rulings, it would be difficult for the FCC to claim authority to do so.

To Yoo, its also a moot point. He says that even services defined as common carriers are allowed to create different tiers of service as long as they don't have rules explicitly prohibiting anyone from paying for the better service.

"The 'Common Carrier' regime has always acknolwedged that providers can create different classes of service as long as they charge everyone who wants that class of service the same amount....it wouldn’t prevent internet service providers from creating a fast lane in the first place."

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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