Though today's much-discussed proposal was long on talk of transparency, there are two loopholes in Google and Verizon's plan for "Net Neutrality" rules, and, yep, one of them covers "gaming options."
The Google/Verizon statement is long on airy principles and does a good job genuflecting to the idea that all consumers have access that isn't throttled or curbed because it competes with their broadband provider. But it also proposes allowing broadband providers "to offer additional, differentiated online services" that they can either charge extra for, limit access to, or require specific equipment to access. "New entertainment and gaming options," are one.
To this layperson, it sounds somewhat like cable TV albeit in reverse; content providers might be willing to pay a broadband provider a premium to get their channel onto a cleaner, faster - and toll-driven - info highway. That cost is then going to be passed along, surely, to customers somehow.
I'm not a futurist or a businessman, but it seems that this could give a figleaf to a console online service provider to charge extra or open a super-gold pipeline delivering the same stuff you're already getting either free or at the standard rate.
And it would be up to the customer to know if sticking with the free, open Internet that Google and Verizon advocate still delivers the full experience he or she wants. Or it could be that certain gold-level gaming services are moved entirely to what some already are calling this "private Internet."
Online gaming represents enormous bandwidth and is a use that will only grow. Four years ago, the file size of an Xbox Live Arcade game was capped at 50 MB, then it went to 250 MB, and 450 MB, and on and on. The Madden NFL 11 demo was 1.5 GB. Full titles on both Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network are in excess of 2 GB, and let's not forget the PC titles delivered over Steam, Direct2Drive, GamersGate and more. A "private Internet" would certainly see a growth market in gaming.
Wherever this is headed, Google and Verizon carry a ton of weight with Washington and a proposal to play fair from the private sector is much more palatable to a political climate that reflexively demonizes pretty much any regulatory structure, especially of a new commodity.
But will it benefit gamers, or just suck up more of their money? This bears watching.