Here's a real world example that shows how this would work. Let's say you call Joe's Pizza and the first thing you hear is a message saying you'll be connected in a minute or two, but if you want, you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That's not fair, right? You called Joe's and want some Joe's pizza. Well, that's how some telecommunications executives want the Internet to operate, with some Web sites easier to access than others. For them, this would be a money-making regime.
As I've mentioned in the past, I'm generally against regulation on the Internet, but I feel strongly that the Internet should remain neutral. Hopefully, that can be achieved through the market, but if not, then regulation may be necessary.
The troubling thing for me here is the power this gives to the gatekeepers. If they decide they like Yahoo! more than Google (e.g., for personal or political reasons), they can make it happen - even if Google was willing to pay more for its bandwidth. Or, in many cases, they have their own competing products. In the example above, they would delay calls to Joe's Pizza and instead send it to their own pizza place.
Some ISPs want to clamp down on VoIP or YouTube because it uses too much traffic, but conveniently have their own competing services. How can you trust these companies to self-regulate when they have a clear conflict of interest?
Many of those in the anti-Net Neutrality camp paint this as Google and Yahoo! looking for, as McCurry put it, "a federal exemption from paying". This is simply not true - rather, they are asking to be charged a consistent cost for the amount of bandwidth they use, regardless of how it is used.
But standing in the way of these benefits is the need for substantial network upgrades. Face it, the current Internet is creaky and will quickly get congested without improvements.
The Internet providers need to recoup their investments and one way is to charge a premium for managing bandwidth content differently. The need for this is self-evident: Data from a video or phone conversation has to be prioritized differently than data from a standard Web site access.
Again, the problem comes back to the conflicts of interest by these telecoms. Even if we had objective guidelines for types of traffic - e.g., all companies pay 2x for voice data because it requires higher quality-of-service (QoS) - the telecoms have a distinct advantage because they are effectively not paying for it.
If this is not an abuse of market power, I don't know what is.