Why surfing the Web could become as dreadful as flying economy class

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[Commentary] If you want a glimpse into what the speed of your Internet connection might look like under the newly proposed Open Internet rules, take yourself back to the last uncomfortable hour of a long plane flight.

You know the feeling. You're back in economy class wondering if seats have actually gotten smaller these past few years (they probably have), and amazed when you glance up front and see how appealing business class has become.

That's what the Internet could look like soon. With all the talk about fast lanes and paid prioritization recently, the Federal Communication Commission's proposed rules could lead us down a path where regular and premium service levels make Internet service look a lot more like air travel.

Tiered service has been common in air travel for years, with airlines offering special amenities and improved service for those who can afford to pay more, while everyone else gets crammed into regular seats. Although almost everyone would prefer to travel more comfortably and wait in faster security and boarding lines, it's often challenging for airlines to convince people to pay the premium for first class: It can cost up to ten times more to fly business instead of economy on a trans-Atlantic flight, and both seats get you to the same destination.

So while airlines try to make first class more appealing with new amenities and personalized attention, they simultaneously have an incentive against improving the quality of "regular" service as a way to protect their higher-end business. And as airlines have struggled financially in recent years, it appears they may even be actively degrading economy class options.

What's more, this tactic has the added benefit of increasing the appeal of premium options while still maintaining the premium price. This nuance is critical because it illustrates the incentives for airlines not only to make more seats available by reducing their size, but to increase the disparity between economy and premium seats to make the premium seats even more attractive to flyers.

[Morris is the Senior Policy Counsel and Kehl is a Policy Analyst at New America's Open Technology Institute]

Why surfing the Web could become as dreadful as flying economy class