Do you know what tiered network service means? If not, come with me on a short exploration of a world with a tiered Internet. If you think you know, you should come anyway because it might be a scarier trip than you'd expect.

The year is 2010, and the heavily amended COPE Act of 2006 has given service providers the unfettered right to give priority to some network protocols or services, and throttle others to a crawl. Big telecoms like AT&T (NYSE:T) jumped for joy and set about harassing voice-over-IP providers like Vonage (NYSE:VG) out of existence, while rolling out video-on-demand services over their high-speed fiber networks.

Competing video services were immediately relegated to a lower service tier. When Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and (NASDAQ:AMZN) rolled out their on-demand plans, they could afford to pay for higher-quality traffic, pushing the cash-poor CinemaNow and MovieLink sites into a dark, unwanted corner of the Internet.

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and its cable-operator peers tried to make the best of the situation and joined the tiered service model. This allowed them to push out their own digital phone operations to their cable modem customers, and to collect tiering fees from online content providers like Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). Some sites started to drown their readers in advertising to make up for the higher cost of doing business, while others began charging for the content.

The phone companies are sitting on top of the world now, with TV delivery networks to rival the cable companies and annual fees rolling in from the Internet services that want to matter. Cable providers are about even, losing part of their traditional customer base, but making up for that in fees and phone lines.

And while the online giants can afford to pay up, there is very little room for fresh innovation and new upstarts. The cost of breaking into any online business is much higher today than it was back in '06, and venture capital for these startups is hard to come by, thanks to the risk of getting arbitrarily strangled by network providers who don't want any new competition to their own services.

Let's drop back to 2006 again. What we have now is known as network neutrality, the right for consumers to pay for a certain level of network service -- be it 56k dial-up or high-speed DSL -- and communicate with other network connections of equal or higher speed without restriction. It's an important aspect of online communications that has helped many of today's online giants rise from humble beginnings to their current magnitude.

There's a reason why the Baby Bells stand almost alone in their quest for tiered services: They're the only ones who stand to benefit from the New World Order. Many other entire industries will suffer greatly, as will the American consumer. While there's still time, don't let this scenario come to pass.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Netflix. He's also a happy Vonage customer, although he wouldn't touch that stock with a 10-foot pole. Foolish disclosure is your ticket to a higher level of understanding.