The term "net neutrality" has buzzing across and newspapers since Google and Verizon began lobbying Congress for legislation that would allow the providers to charge different amounts for different types of data streaming to cell phones. Right now, users pay a fee to access the Internet and this gives them access to everything on it. With the new system, users would buy a separate plan if they were avid users of more bandwidth heavy services like streaming audio or video. Basically you'd have your regular "reading" plan and then a "I wanna cats go potty on YouTube" plan. Their rationale is that the demand for streaming services like video is eating up the bandwidth at an alarmingly rate and users should bear the cost of the $1 billion upgrade that is needed. Google has said it maintains it's position that all Internet should be equally accessible for wired services still stands and also wants legislation codifying the currently voluntary position of wired service providers to keep access open.
From an economic perspective, I totally agree with Google's perspective. This is an issue where some users are endangering the availability of services for everyone. The heavy users should pay for the upgrades needed to support their YouTube or TV.com addictions.
The societal implications are where this gets messy. Basically, this type of legislation would be allowing a private corporation to censor the Internet. What if the tiering system benefits Christians or Muslims or Conservatives or Liberals or the Porn industry? You have to pay to get access to CNN, but Fox is streamed for free? The worry is that the type of data won't be where the differentiation ends. Right now, everyone is on an even playing field for the Internet. Anyone can start a blog (hi!!), post video and have it be accessible to everyone. Starting a tiered system of payment changes that. It takes away the entrepreneur highly competitive spirit of the Internet and makes it just another place where the highest bidder wins and those with the most money control the information we get. In our country, it's not the government that will censor our access to information - it's the multinational corporations like Google and Verizon that will begin to erode the last place where speech is truly free and access if truly equal. It is something to be worried about. People are protesting Google about this. If you free strongly about it, you could join that protest here. Or you can always contact your Congressional Representative. Or contact the FCC directly. There is a FCC hearing on this issue tomorrow in Minnesota. Make your Voice Heard!