"BellSouth Corp. confirmed Monday that it is pursuing discussions with Internet content companies to levy charges to reliably and speedily deliver their content and services.
Bill Smith, chief technology officer at BellSouth, justified content charging companies by saying they are using the telco's network without paying for it.
"Higher usage for broadband services drives more costs that we have to recover," he said in a telephone interview.
He suggested that Apple Computer might be asked to pay a nickel or a dime to insure the complete and rapid transmission of a song via the Internet, which is being used for more and more content-intensive purposes. He cited Yahoo Inc.'s plans to stream reality TV shows as an example.
"It's the shipping business of the digital age," Smith said, arguing that consumers should welcome the pay-for-delivery concept.
BellSouth has discussed its idea with MovieLink, a film-download service. He called MovieLink an example of the kind of company that wants customers to have a good experience and would view costs incurred in the strengthening of BellSouth's Internet capacity as worthwhile. Smith also said online game companies are likely candidates for charges.
Over the weekend, Internet entrepreneur and NBA team owner Mark Cuban wrote on his blog at BlogMaverick.com that such fees are critical to the survival of the Internet. "Our ability to consume bandwidth is growing far, far faster than the speed at which it is being added," he said. "The more bandwidth we consume, the more Internet traffic jams we have."
Cuban wants telephone and cable and wireless companies to work out a way to deliver traffic at various levels of service quality. "Yes, that will mean some content will cost more if we want it faster," he conceded. "But that will be our choice."