A University of Florida study has found that charging online content providers for preferential access to the customers of ISPs might discourage ISPs from upgrading their networks and service.

“The conventional wisdom is that ISPs would have greater incentive to expand their service capabilities if they were allowed to charge,” says Kenneth Cheng, a professor in UF’s Department of Decision and Information Sciences. “That was completely the opposite of what we found.”

The researchers developed a mathematical analytical model — similar to those used by economists — based on game theory to determine the winners and losers if ‘Net neutrality were abandoned, as well as whether the practice’s demise would give broadband service providers greater incentive to expand capacity.

The university researchers found that the incentive for broadband service providers to expand and upgrade their service actually declines if ‘Net neutrality ends. Improving the infrastructure reduces the need for online content providers to pay for preferential treatment.

ISPs are more likely to improve their infrastructure and service if they don’t charge these companies a fee for priority service, the UF researchers concluded.

The findings come as the U.S. Congress considers legislation to enforce ‘Net neutrality — prohibiting broadband service providers from giving preferential service to content providers willing to pay a fee. Proponents of ‘Net neutrality claim this fee-for-service structure would eliminate equal access to all online content.

The researchers claim ‘Net neutrality provides better service because it facilitates greater competition. They cite Japan and Korea as examples of places where net neutrality fosters “much greater competition” among broadband providers than in the United States, as well as higher broadband speeds.

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