It seems Network Neutrality will be the next battleground for Internet citizens. In the new tug-of-war between the US Internet Industry Association (USIIA) and the US government, the latter will try to prevent the creation of a multi-level Internet by carriers like AT&T.
USIIA has criticised Network Neutrality for being an unwelcome invisible hand, which would prove nefarious rather than helpful in the short term.
Senator Ron Wyden has already introduced the "Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006"; this ensures there is no premium to be paid for quality internet.
Unfortunately, this might not be enough: AOL have already tried to get revenue from hitherto free services such as email, and AT&T is increasingly interested in making web companies pay for the use of their networks. It is only a matter of time before revenue models can be squeezed from internet companies making billions, while Network companies lose out.
Internet companies like Google and Yahoo are already buying bandwidth in bulk; they are paying for a service to someone. Searching on Arin.net for Google brings up some interesting information. Qwest, one big telecommunication service provider, is currently one of those providing connection to Google.
On the other hand, internet users also have to fork out money to pay their ISPs - often the same firm providing the internet pipes to the big boys. So to some extent, there is a level of misunderstanding as to what exactly is happening.
If carriers and ISPs are allowed to do what they intend, there will be no limit to their greed; they will be the ones effectively controlling the knobs. That said, it might just be the blessing in disguise I am secretly waiting for: to see alternative wireless networks like WiMax take off and provide some needed competition for providers, at least as far as end users are concerned.