MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Google has reportedly been in contact with a number of cable and telecoms providers that offer internet services in an effort to create what The Wall Street Journal calls an online "fast lane" for its own traffic.

The WSJ has apparently seen documents showing that the online giant, which has long been regarded as a major advocate of the principle of "network neutrality", is now attempting to gain prioritization for its own information.

The idea is said to be favored by some phone and cable companies, who face rising costs due to increased internet penetration and traffic levels, as well as the rapid increase in online video content.

Charging content providers to access "fast lanes" could thus be a new source of revenue, and is thought to be favored by Stanford University's Lawrence Lessig, who has been mentioned as a possible head of the Federal Communications Commission under president-elect Barack Obama.

Critics of the plan, however, argue that such a system would undermine both the openness and competitiveness of the internet.

Ben Scott, policy director of media reform advocacy group Free Press, says: "What they're talking about is selling you the right to skip ahead in the line.

"It would mean the first part of your business plan would be a deal with AT&T to get into their super-tier – that is anathema to a culture of innovation."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal online; additional content by WARC staff