Without net neutrality, critics contend, the system could create two kinds of Internet pipelines: one for those who can afford to pay to play and another for the hoi polloi. For example, if Joe in Toledo records a song in his basement and puts it on his site, or even posts it on YouTube, listeners could have to wait a lot longer to stream it than a song from a big corporate-backed band like Metallica, say.
Such a multitiered system would have a profound social impact, critics say. Up to now, the Internet has been a neutral sphere in which every penny-ante start-up, every independent website, and even every aspiring media mogul could be on an even playing pipe with the biggest players in the world. Now, the highest speeds and thus the highest-quality audio and video might be reserved for those who can afford it – creating a cultural echo chamber dominated by big corporations, the critics say.