BANDWIDTH BATTLE: What is an Internet 'fast lane'? - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

BANDWIDTH BATTLE: What is an Internet 'fast lane'?

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Anyone who has ever had their Internet service slow way, way down will want to pay attention to the FCC as it considers letting companies pay for priority service -- because it could have a big impact on you, too.

It's an idea that's been kicked around for a while and it's being driven by some big players who take up a lot of space on the information superhighway. Most are involved in streaming video, like Netflix and YouTube.

Cable companies are essentially saying they can guarantee uninterrupted service for a price, but the larger, unanswered question is: What would that cost the rest of us?

The modern Internet is something like a traffic jam in rush hour, but the new debate is over whether there should be some kind of high-occupancy-vehicle lane -- a way for some to get there faster and leave others in the dust.

Protestors interrupting the Federal Communications Commission want to put the brakes on that plan, but on Thursday, the FCC gave the very first green light to exploring the option for companies willing to pay up -- like Netflix, which now takes up one third of all Internet traffic in the U.S. during peak times.

"The supporters of a 'fast lane' say, 'It's the free market at work,' that companies like Netflix that take up enormous bandwidth should pay for that," Bill McGevern, a legal expert on the Internet, told Fox 9 News.

According to McGevern, the problem with that theory is that it could create unequal access and kill innovation.

"The concern is the next big, innovative idea may not have the ability to get out there," he explained. "We know the next Google or Facebook is coming from a garage or dorm room."

The battle for bandwidth pits content providers like Netflix, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Skype against the folks who actually own the pipes -- Internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner.

"When we started Kickstarter, we didn't have to strike a deal with a cable company," Julie Wood said.

Companies like Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing fundraising site, say a fast lane would destroy their business model and stifle competition.

"Any time you're watching a video and have even a second of buffering, it's a bad thing," she said. "I don't see how any company could not be in the fast lane and compete."

The question is whether the Internet is like the electric grid and should be regulated or whether it should be left as a free market Wild West. The answer to that question may depend on where you find yourself sitting in traffic.

"If it does create a second-class service, then I think everybody loses," McGevern said.

It is also worth noting that the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, used to be a lobbyist for the cable companies prior to his appointment.

This is also not the first time the FCC has dipped a toe in these waters, but the courts stopped them before. This time, Congress may pull the plug -- but the issue of whether big users should pay more doesn't seem to be going away.

If you would like to contact Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) about hosting an internet safety presentation for your school, church, neighborhood or civic organization, please contact HSI St. Paul at 952-853-2690, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Please leave a message for the duty agent. Or you can contact HSI via email at HSI-Minnesota-iGuardian@ice.dhs.gov


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