Despite regulation changes, technology advancements, and
increased competition in the telecommunications sector, nothing much has really
changed over the past 25 years with how telephone companies operate in America.
Ask any 10 people which company they dislike the most, and the most popular
responses will likely be either telephone companies or oil companies.

And given current situations, that’s not likely to change
anytime soon. Right now, the incumbent telecommunications companies that
connect households and businesses are exploring the option of charging
“pure” Internet companies a fee for using their Internet network to
transmit content to customers.

For more than six months, the U.S. Congress has been working
to update and
revise current telecommunications legislation
to address newer technologies
such as broadband Internet and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). And for
about the same amount of time, technology firms and telecommunication companies
have been arguing back and forth about the best

Over the past few months, a debate has been raging—in
Congress, in the media, and on the Web—over the concept of
“network neutrality.”
In the face of potential drastic changes
over Internet services and the possible creation of a “two-tiered
Internet,” this notion asserts that Internet access providers don’t play
when it comes to delivering services.

I won’t bother to go into details discussing the issue of network
neutrality—other media resources have already beaten it to death. Basically,
telephone companies want to make more money and spend less so they can continue
to grow profits. (And who doesn’t?) Competition in the broadband market is
increasing, and telecom companies need more revenue to remain competitive.

These companies realize that customers accustomed to
flat-rate broadband Internet services won’t exactly be amenable to higher
prices just to help boost revenue. That’s why they’re looking to extract
additional revenue from Internet companies, which access their customers on
telecom companies’ broadband networks.

Ultimately, telecom companies want to change how the
Internet works on their networks; they want to implement a system that favors
Internet companies that pay for faster access to their broadband customers. Such
a system means implementing a “two-tiered” Internet: One tier exists
for those who pay for higher speed data rates—and a slower speed tier for those
who don’t.

Despite court battles over whether ISPs have
the right to block VoIP traffic
, there is currently no legal restriction in
America that prevents any ISP—including telecoms—from prioritizing, blocking,
or otherwise filtering Internet traffic to or from anybody for whatever reason it
wants. And that has led many in the Internet community to respond to telecoms’
proposals by specifically targeting telecom Internet networks with attacks,
floods, blocking, or reducing Internet traffic to those that have proposed the
two-tiered Internet.

So what would a two-tiered Internet mean for the rest of us?
Incumbent telecom companies having the ability to control access to customers likely
means that customers will suffer.

Telecom companies won’t cut off Internet powerhouses such as
Yahoo, Google, eBay, and a host of other pure Internet companies. However, that
doesn’t mean their data speeds won’t suffer—unless they strike some manner of
agreement with telecoms, an agreement that would likely mean passing on higher
costs to customers.

But it might not stop there. Such actions from telecoms
could potentially lead to rebellion from the Internet community, manifesting in
the form of blocked routes and networks, new viruses and worms, and increased
DDoS attacks. And the last thing we need is more
Internet security threats.

Personally, I don’t mind if telecoms try this—customers will
simply look for alternative ISPs. In fact, the biggest source of customers at
the ISP I work for is people who are fed up with the high cost and terrible
service of their existing ISPs, which are generally operated by the incumbent
telephone companies. Despite my concerns over security, anything the phone
company does to send me business is fine by me.

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Jonathan Yarden is the
senior UNIX system administrator, network security manager, and senior software
architect for a regional ISP.