Paid Web Next? Internet As A Common Carrier Or Cable And Telcos To Spin New Commercial Internet?
In the early days of radio in the U.S. there was very little control over who could use the various frequencies available to both commercial and amateur providers. Both were mixed in together in an interesting if chaotic hodge-podge.
Photo credit: Pattie Steib
Subsequent regulations separated out frequencies to be used for commercial and amateur broadcasts, with amateurs relegated to the electromagnetic boondocks of low frequencies that limited their use and audiences.
According to MediaChannel.org and major outlets cable and telecoms companies in the U.S. appear to be pushing to put up fee-based controls to segregate commercial content channels from the Web's stew of amateur authors, with schemes to charge both suppliers and consumers for different tiers of access.
Standing in the way of these proposals is the Federal Communications Commission, which is being asked to remove the vestiges of "Common Carrier" regulations that have treated most Internet access in the U.S. as a public utility, much in the same way that most public roads offer access to commercial and individual traffic alike without preference.
With so many interests vying to put up toll booths for Web-based content this move should come as no surprise.
But besides the obvious concerns that major born-on-the-Web providers and user-generated media advocates may have about this development it should also be of great concern to book and magazine publishers and other commercial providers who may find themselves squeezed in online venues in much the same way that they now have to fight to keep postage rates down to a dull roar.
Photo credit: Dawn Hudson
While the benefits of unfettered bandwidth for all comers may have its limits at the edges (let's pray for spam metering) building preferential access pricing into the basic Internet model is a recipe for killing the enormous growth in online content markets.
In effect it will be a tax on U.S. companies and citizens, allowing other economies retaining a flat model to grow their media markets more efficiently and to make more effective use of user-generated media.
In a world in which U.S. competitiveness is being challenged on many levels this key productivity benefit could be a disaster for the greater U.S. economy.
The wild card in this mix may be Google's new broadband wireless network, which so far seems to promise unfettered and equal access to Web content in exchange for ads served up via their access points.
If the FCC manages to drop Common Carrier regulations it could be that the marketplace will respond very favorably to the Google network in comparison to the "toll road" approach. Talk about a scenario that would make many publishers shudder.
From all reasonable angles it is in the best interests of content companies large and small to advocate for the retention of Common Carrier requirements for the vast majority of Internet-based communications. Have your lobbyists polish up their shoes and tell the folks at the FCC to rethink this one, please.
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