Schools, businesses, and other consumers could end up paying more for videoconferencing, video streaming, voice-over-IP, and other broadband internet services, if plans floated by major telecommunications companies come to pass. The firms' proposals have sparked a wave of concern that reaches from consumer rights' groups to members of Congress--with some critics saying the very future of the internet is at stake.

On today's internet, the traffic cops are blind; they do not look at the data they are directing, and they do not give preferential treatment. But that's something operators of the internet highway, the...

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