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Cuban All For Multi-Tiered Internet

Internet pioneer and entrepreneur Mark Cuban wants a multi-tiered Internet where bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video, cost a premium, echoing recent comments of the Baby Bells and cable companies that dominate the U.S. broadband market.

Cuban, the current owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and a founder of Broadcast.com, which he sold to Yahoo in 1999 for almost $6 billion dollars, wrote in his blog on Sunday, "I want the telcos and the cable companies and the wireless companies to work out a way to exchange traffic at multiple quality of service levels."

Cuban's comments come at a time when the Bells and cable companies are pushing Congress for legislation that would allow them to charge a premium to Web sites to load faster than their competitors.

The proposal would also allow the broadband carriers to transmit their own services faster and more efficiently than competing services.

"If the holy grail to some is any video content in high definition, anytime anywhere from the Internet, well guess what, your 15mbs download speed is going to crawl like a 14k Hayes modem during peak use times," Cuban wrote. "You think it's bad now having to wait overnight for that video to download? It can get a lot worse."

He added, "We can try all the tricks we want. Edge servers, peer to peer, it won't matter. Just like a 20 lane highway is still going to have gridlock if enough cars use it, so will the Net."

With tiered levels of service, Cuban claims, the broadband Internet will come closer to meeting its potential.

"At that point, the Internet becomes a viable means for important applications it can't support today," he wrote. "We will see a number of new applications developed, whether medical or otherwise, that can't be put into place today simply because there are definable levels of service."

Cuban noted that the medical and home diagnostic applications being developed today are bandwidth-intensive and require a quality of service that can't be interrupted.

Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a Washington-based advocacy group focused on digital rights, said Cuban was "mixing a lot of different thoughts and ideas."

Her organization is one of the Washington leaders fighting for what is known as network neutrality, where all Internet service providers treat all data equally. That does not mean, she said Monday, that broadband providers shouldn't be able to charge more to consumers for access to larger amounts of bandwidth.

"The Bells should be free to charge people for fatter pipes. In fact, they already do," Sohn said. "Nobody argues with that."

What Sohn and other public advocacy groups fear is a system where one class of application, for instance, Voice over IP , is prioritized over another member of that class.

"We don't want to replicate the cable model on broadband Internet," she said. "We don't want the Internet to turn into cable whereby the pipe owners decide on content and services."

Cuban stressed that would not be the case under his plan.

"[We need to] add multiple tiers of service so that users, companies and applications that want to, or need to, avoid those traffic jams have alternatives," he wrote. "We need HOV lanes and toll roads on the net as badly as we need the HOV lanes on the [Interstate highways]."