Again and again, we hear about the idea of a "tiered" Internet, containing 1st and 2nd class citizens. In some variants, entire sites would be cut off by ISPs. Let's take a look at sites that probably would not have been able to get started with the notion of a "tiered" Internet. In this list, I'm including major sites that were started without major commercial backing, whose success only came after making it big -- something that takes users being able to access the site, of course. Let's assume that a tiered Internet came out about a decade ago, right after the fall of the dot-com era.
- January 15, 2001 -- Wikipedia is launched. Wikipedia is now the #7 most-visited site on the Internet. Due to the ad-free nature of their site, having to pay "premiums" to every ISP would likely kill Wikipedia.
- May 27, 2003 -- Wordpress is released. Wordpress.com, a free host for blogs, is the #19 Internet site. Would they have to work out contracts with the ISPs to keep providing a free service?
- February 4, 2004 -- Facebook is launched from a college dorm room. Facebook didn't turn a profit until 2009. They are now the #2 site on the Internet. I'm sure they wouldn't have been able to survive those first 5 years if only some ISPs were able to access their site.
- December 5, 2004 -- The launch of Digg.com, the first major social news site. Digg.com was launched by Kevin Rose, and is today the #88 website in the U.S.
- February 14, 2005 -- YouTube is launched. YouTube was founded by 3 private individuals with $11.5 million in VC money. Given that YouTube now ranks as #3 globally and is responsible for 10% of the world's Internet traffic, it's likely that it would never have gotten to see any amount of success in a tiered Internet.
- July 15, 2006 -- Twitter, the most successful microblogging site in the world, is launched. Twitter has only recently begun to generate revenues worth mentioning. Without a significant revenue model in place, it is unlikely venture capitalists would have invested, leading to an early death for Twitter.
From just the .com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, and .us TLDs, there are over 127 Million registered domains. As of even 2002, it was estimated there were 3500-4000 ISPs in the United States. So, are these sites supposed to sign 4000 contracts each? A total of something like 508 Billion contracts in the US alone? This is positively insane.
Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems that Wired.com has made this same argument. I, for one, will never use an ISP that cuts off access to part of what I'm paying for. Charge me for my bandwidth, just as Google's ISP charges them for their bandwidth.
[Most of the site statistics are from Alexa.com. Founding dates from Wikipedia.]