Preferred access for those who can afford it is most of the time the rule and not the exception.

Some examples are, if you pay more then you can get:

  • First class flights
  • Better medical treatment
  • Better/healthier food
  • Faster lane in the highway
  • More bandwidth for your existing internet connection

So I would like to understand why would we want to make internet speed an exception?

I personally don't like the fast lane approach but I don't find the arguments against it logically sound.

I want to understand why suddenly everyone goes crazy about this one commodity while there's not the same kind of noise regarding for example "road neutrality" (roads should not discriminate types of vehicles).

Not all bits are made equal, I think many would agree that they would want emergency services to have priority access over porn streaming sites for example.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Avi, Affable Geek Jan 26 '15 at 21:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    This analogy doesn't work. Net Neutrality is about treating content equally--not internet speeds per customer. – user1530 Jan 26 '15 at 5:14
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    @AffableGeek Thanks for trying to clarify the questions but your edits do not reflect my intention so I rolled back the question. I'm not asking about arguments against it. I have read about those arguments. I want to understand is why should the internet be treated differently than other commodities given that even other commodities that supposedly are neutral really aren't. – pgpb.padilla Jan 26 '15 at 5:55
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    Again, this is confusing what net neutrality means. The internet is treated like other commodities. Consumers tend to pay per-usage. – user1530 Jan 26 '15 at 17:14
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    I'm using the definition given in Wikipedia, what part is confusing? – pgpb.padilla Jan 26 '15 at 17:23
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    I'm placing this on hold to get the question more neutrally written. If your focus is on the differences between physical commodities and information, then you need to better focus the question. I'm happy to reopen, but I need a question and not an argument :) – Affable Geek Jan 26 '15 at 21:30

It might be a result of the edit, but your question appears to be missing a key element. Everything else you listed are things that individual people can pay more to get. The internet equivalent would be paying more to your ISP for a higher tier of broadband to your home. The discussions of "internet fast lanes" are for companies paying ISPs for a faster connection to their customers (including you). (Alternatively, it can be framed as companies who don't pay having slower connections while those that do maintain normal ones.)

The reason this is considered a big deal is that it locks out newcomers. Google released a better search engine than Yahoo (or any other search at the time) and became the go-to search engine. Netflix became big online because they were able to make watching movies and TV on-demand easy and convenient, where it wasn't before. Facebook supplanted MySpace. Twitch and Skype are all about live streaming (Skype is just two-way). And so on. New companies come up with new services all the time, and if they're new and/or better than what's out there before, they become big.

In contrast, if a new company was artificially slowed compared to an established one, it's going to be a lot harder to catch on. Imagine if a Google search took 5 seconds to load results, whereas Yahoo was less than a second. Would people have switched? Or if Netflix constantly had to rebuffer and/or downgrade the quality, while other services (perhaps provided by the ISP) didn't. Or your Skype call lagged and/or dropped regardless of how fast your individual connections were. Of course, if these new companies could afford to pay more, they'd get the faster treatment they need... but then they have to charge more (possibly pricing themselves out of the market) or eat the extra cost (possibly cutting their profit margins too thin to grow). Having to pay extra unfairly disadvantages newcomers.

This is why it's considered a big deal - it's not that the individual consumer will see much difference. Instead it's that established companies who can afford to pay for faster treatment have a huge, artificial, advantage over any new competitors.


People already pay for different bandwidth and/or performance on both ends (residential Internet access and server-side hosting) and that would seem to be the more natural analogy with first class travel or the price of food. From that perspective, preferred access already exists and the debate about net neutrality is about something else.

At the same time, infrastructure networks frequently foster imperfect competition (monopsony, monopoly, oligopsony, oligopoly) and are therefore heavily regulated. You don't hear about “road neutrality” because most roads are, in fact, neutral (say towards the make of the vehicles using them, their country of origin or their operators).

Beyond that, we have different sets of powerful players who want a share of the same pie (consumer subscription payments and advertisement) and a host of smaller actors standing to become collateral damage. It's not clear to me whether Microsoft, Netflix or Comcast has the best case here but there is no obvious “default” position in all this. It's a lack of any regulation that would make the Internet backbone very unusual.

Incidentally, there is or has been quite a bit of fuss in Europe about the way train or telephone networks should open up to competition, whether historical monopolistic network operators abuse their position, etc. More recently, there is an on-going discussion about Germany's plans to introduce a “toll for foreigners”, which could be understood as a breach of “road neutrality”. So even in terms of “noise”, there is nothing highly unusual there, network infrastructure management is always contentious.

  • "most roads are, in fact, neutral" - not really. Tolls are different for busses and private cars and trucks. – user4012 Jan 26 '15 at 22:17
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    @DVK The only BS here is your comment, the parenthesis should have been enough to clarify what I meant… – Relaxed Jan 26 '15 at 22:18
  • yet, what I said is 10x closer analogy to Netflix case than what your parenthesis said. – user4012 Jan 26 '15 at 22:19
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    @DVK How do you figure? I just don't see it. – Relaxed Jan 26 '15 at 22:20
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    @dvk if you're sticking with that analogy it'd be like Comcast charing $50 for the Netflix bus $0 for the Universal Studios bus. – user1530 Jan 27 '15 at 1:53

I'll give you the conspiracy theorist answer. :)

So, as far as I can tell, the entire issue came about because Netflix wanted free peering agreements. A peering agreement is like a direct line to a "top tier" or national/international ISP. Almost everyone else does business with lower tier local or regional ISPs. The advantage of the peering agreement is that it essentially puts you in the center of the network, unlike everyone else on the edge. So your latency decreases and you have access to much more bandwidth. Plenty others already pay for peering agreements. But instead of making a mutually beneficial business deal like other big internet content companies, Netflix decided it wanted to create a political movement to get it for free.

I should mention that, AFAIK, no one wants to get rid of peering agreements (the fast lanes of the internet). It just wouldn't make sense. You want big content providers in the middle of the network because it's better for consumers. Google, Facebook, and countless others use the same technique (and probably1 pay for it). To extend the highway metaphor, one could say that Netflix wants free access to the fast lane.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/dan-rayburn-on-net-neutrality-netflix-and-peering-2014-5

1: The peering agreements aren't disclosed, so we don't know they pay. But the ISPs can charge. So, I (and the source) reason, they probably do charge.

In fact, based on research that Rayburn published on his blog on Wednesday, most of the big Internet providers are already paying the big ISPs.

P.S. It should be noted that a lower cost equivalent to peering agreements exists for small players. Content Delivery Networks are companies with extensive networks of their own and peering agreements with the major ISPs who offer the service of hosting others' content on their network. And they do so for relatively low cost ($0.12 per GB served) and are widely used by companies I wouldn't call "huge players".

  • "like other big internet content companies" - I don't believe that Google pays ISPs for them providing access to YouTube; au contraire. – Martin Schröder Jan 26 '15 at 0:38
  • Did you read the link? Admittedly, the link only states that Google has a peering agreements with the ISPs; the terms of the agreements aren't disclosed, so it's impossible to know if or how much they pay. But is it really reasonable to believe they get a free peering agreement? – Tyler Jan 26 '15 at 3:21
  • @MartinSchröder, does the edit clarify sufficiently? – Tyler Jan 26 '15 at 3:28
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    Unless I'm mistaken, this answer essentially says "it's good for the huge players, and they like it that way," while it ignores the entry barrier that this forms. So I guess it does highlight an argument against "fast lanes" in a roundabout way. – Geobits Jan 26 '15 at 3:39
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    @Geobits, see the postscript. I wouldn't call 1800 Flowers and Martha Stuart Living "huge players". – Tyler Jan 26 '15 at 3:51

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