Should content providers be charged to ensure a faster Internet? According to a new filing from the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, the answer is yes. According to the filing, not allowing broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) from charging content providers directly for faster or more reliable service “could shift the entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers.” That echoes a report from the Federal Trade Commission and is bound to anger advocates of net neutrality. They claim that regulation is vital so ISPs won’t restrict bandwidth or block access to Web sites that might have higher-than-normal bandwidth demands. At an extreme end, some argue that ISPs might even block sites that offer competing content or only offer guaranteed access for a steep premium. The Justice Department pointed to differentiated service levels and pricing as common way of allocating limited resources and satisfying customers.
“No one challenges the benefits to society of these differentiated products,” the DoJ said in its filing. “Whether or not the same type of differentiated products and services will develop on the Internet should be determined by market forces, not regulatory intervention….even assuming that a potential danger exists, the ambiguity of what conduct needs to be prohibited raises a real possibility that regulation would prohibit some conduct that is beneficial, while failing to stop other conduct that may be harmful.”
The filing is a response to an FCC notice of inquiry. The next step in the process is for the FCC to sift the reports and materials submitted and reach a conclusion — a process that could take anywhere from a few months to a few years.