The gigantic beast of a man beside him, with hands like cinderblocks, nodded gravely.
The cowed store owner managed to sputter out, "Wha-what do you mean?"
"Guido, why don't you show him what we mean?"
In that snippet of a story, anyone running a website is that store owner, and the extortionists are AT&T, Bell South, and any of the major telcos who are fighting for tiered Internet service.
In the long ago days of dialup service, telcos weren't too happy about the Internet thing, but there wasn't a heck of a lot they could do about it. Their hands were tied by a legal instrument called the Communications Act. If a telephone company was, say worried that you'd be using the Internet to communicate instead of long distance telephone calls, and decided to prevent you from dialing your ISP, or maybe just degraded the line enough that you'd always get a horrible connection, they'd be breaking the law. Still applies to phone service actually.
This is the idea of Network Neutrality. If you provide a communication's channel, you have to treat all of the content on that channel equally. This has some good benefits. You, the consumer, get reliable service. In a client-server architecture, like vast stretches of the Internet, it means that the server (say, Amazon) is guaranteed to get their data to you. Robust, reliable service, with a variety of options delivered to you the consumer, preventing monopolistic behaviors in your service provider.
As you can imagine, your service provider hates that. Which brings us to Save the Internet. With back-room palm greasing and on-the-knees-cock-sucking (which one sounds dirtier?) the telcos are lobbying Congress, trying to convince them that Network Neutrality has no place in the new world of broadband, and that they should have every right to drop whatever packets they feel like.
Damn, that makes my libertarian heart twinge a little bit. The telcos are providing an infrastructure service, and as such, they need to act in the public trust. While I'm all about a free reign on private industry, imagine, if you will, what would happen if Honda started buying roadways, and forbidding Toyotas to drive on them. Sound crazy? That's what we're talking about here.
The telcos want to ransom large websites, forcing them to pay a surcharge for their popularity, in order to guarantee that their packets get through. Never mind that all of these sites pay bandwith fees out the ass to begin with. Never mind that we pay our own fees for Internet access. The upstream provider pays, the downstream client pays- the guys who own the pipes are getting paid twice, while they're claiming that it's unfair that Google gets a free ride.