"Pay for Priority" Already is a Widespread Reality of the Consumer Website Experience

Fully 81 percent of consumers surveyed by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communications say they oppose “allowing Internet service providers to charge some websites or streaming video services extra for faster speeds.”


In one sense, the responses are not surprising. At some level, a rational person would likely conclude that if any ISP can charge a website for expedited delivery, that has to be reflected in higher costs to use that website, over time.

Also, past surveys universally have found that consumers dislike advertising embedded into their TV experiences. But when asked whether they would rather pay more, to avoid the commercials, people routinely decline, indicating an acceptance of the irritation of ads if it also means "free" content access.

Something like that undoubtedly is at work here.

Incidentally, one can generate equally unhelpful results asking people whether the Internet should be regulated like television and radio. People say they do not like that either, and that is how one survey probed for attitudes about network neutrality.


One suspects fairly comparable results might therefore have been gotten if the question something like “do you think a network should be able to charge a website or streaming video service extra for faster speeds.” It is logically the same scenario: the website spends money to a transport services provider to gain faster delivery of its packets.

Consumers might rightly guess that would somehow be reflected in higher costs to use the websites that do so.


Consumers cannot be expected to know that just one content delivery network of many (Akamai) provides exactly those services to 33 percent of “Global 500” companies as defined by Fortune magazine, including the largest 30 media and entertainment companies.


Akamai also is paid money for expedited packet delivery by “all 20 top global e-commerce sites,” according to Akamai.


Fully 97 of the top 100 online U.S. retailers also use Akamai to speed up performance.


In addition, Akamai is use dbgy more than 150 of the world's leading news portals, nine of the top 10 U.S banks, seven of the top 10 world banks, eight of the top 10 U.S online brokers, nine of the top 10 largest newspapers, eight of the top 10 online publishers, and nine out of 10 top social media sites, to name just some of the industry segments and leading firms that pay money to Akamai to expedite delivery of their packets.


If such payments are reflected someplace in each of the paying company business models (it has to be), then “higher prices” already are reflected in the websites and services. The upside, of course, is better user experience when interacting with the sites.


The point is that most respondents, if rightly guessing “my costs” have to be higher, also do not understand that such costs already are widely embedded in leading website cost structures, and that better user experience is the benefit such costs enable.


One guesses most respondents also would object to some new policy that slows down packet delivery or speeds. But that would also mean they object to content delivery networks such as Akamai, even if nobody knows payments for expedited delivery are any everyday occurrence for the most-popular websites, and that, yes, those costs are reflected in the cost of the delivered products.


The point is that popular understanding of a complicated subject such as “network neutrality” is further complicated because people do not understand the ways content delivery networks, though representing some incremental cost, also provide experience benefits that app providers widely believe are worth the price.

Consumers who use those sites are benefitting, and also are paying for the expedited delivery. It isn’t much of a problem, if it is a problem at all.
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