Verizon: Toll-Free Internet Access on Horizon

Published May 31, 2016

Services such as Google and Netflix could soon be paying broadband providers for priority access so users can avoid network congestion, says Tony Melone, chief technology officer for Verizon.

During the CTIA (the wireless networking association) 2012 trade show in New Orleans in May, Melone said adopting a 1-800-like service for big-name online companies such as Google and Netflix would allow these services to pay broadband providers for clear access to their sites, paving direct roadways for customers.

“As we move away from flat-rate pricing, there is room for a 1-800-type of service where certain destinations could offset the cost of the network to get customers to those destinations,” he said.

‘Opportunities for Users’
Although the pricing scheme Melone suggests conflicts with network neutrality regulations preventing providers of Internet services from showing any preference of one data source over another, Melone says this can be worked out.

Gennady Stolyarov II, editor-in-chief of the libertarian blog The Rational Argumentator, says the pricing plan proposed by Melone is a welcome innovation which will allow data-intensive sites such as Netflix to consider paying broadband providers for the ability to furnish greater amounts of data to customers.

“Since the cost of Internet access must be paid for by someone, consumers benefit when a business offers to pick up some of that cost,” Stolyarov said.

“This experimentation, if successfully implemented for larger content providers, may in time spread to others as well. Consumers should consider such favorable pricing a gift which may expand the amount of data they are able to access without paying more,” he added.

“Some may complain that this privileges access to particular sites. However, I see this instead as making access to those specific sites cheaper while keeping the cost of access to other sites at the same level as before. In terms of total access to content, this situation clearly only opens opportunities for users,” he explained.

‘A Win for Consumers’
Chris McGregor, information technology director for the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, Texas, says this is a prime example of why the market doesn’t need the government to tell Internet service providers how to run their networks.

“Providing Internet services is a business,” McGregor said. “Content providers can enter into business deals with the Internet service providers to gain an advantage so that their product—streaming content—is delivered to their customer in the best possible condition. Network congestion is much more bothersome for an end user watching a streaming video than someone whose email was delayed a few seconds.”

McGregor added, “This would be a win for consumers because content providers that require such high-priority network traffic would offset the growing cost of maintaining and expanding the network instead of the ISP passing the cost onto all its customers. Net neutrality would make some customers subsidize others that don’t subscribe to streaming content providers. Consumers also win with a better viewing experience of streaming content,” he said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.