Who wants a two-tier Internet?

What is it with telecom executives lately — did they all get together at a meeting and decide that they were going to take over the Internet? It’s starting to feel that way. First it was Ed Whitacre, CEO of what used to be SBC Communications (now AT&T); he said in an interview with BusinessWeek that companies like Google, Microsoft and Vonage would have to pay up to use his network: “What they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that… why should they be allowed to use my pipes?”

Now we have similar comments from Bill Smith, chief technology officer for BellSouth, who told the Washington Post that his company should be able to make some websites work faster than others, in return for payments from companies such as Yahoo. In other words, your GTalk might not work quite as fast as MSN’s VOIP service because Microsoft decided to pay BellSouth whatever they were asking to prioritize their packets. “If I go to the airport, I can buy a coach standby ticket or a first-class ticket,” Smith said. “In the shipping business, I can get two-day air or six-day ground.”

Good Morning Silicon Valley has a good headline on their post about Smith’s proposal: “Interesting approach, Bill; why don’t you try it on your phone network first?” How would BellSouth’s phone customers feel if they knew someone else was paying more so that their phone call was getting through faster or was better quality? More to the point, how would the government feel? Carl Howe of Blackfriars has it right when he says BellSouth has joined the “Internet payola club.”

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