The Amazon Channel

packages.gif It’s all very well to talk about net neutrality or Internet freedom and how it affects 700Mhz spectrum sales or freedom of the press. But what does all this have to do with the average Internet user?

Suppose the telcos and cablecos get everything they want.

To buy a BBQ grill on eBay, you’ll have to pay for the eBay channel. This is above whatever you pay the seller for the grill or eBay for your membership. You’ll have to pay your local Internet access company just to let you get to eBay to participate in the auction. Oh, maybe you’ll be able to get there anyway, but your access may be so slow that you’ll pay for the eBay channel out of frustration.

If you want to buy a book from Amazon, you’ll have to pay for the Amazon channel. For search you’ll need the Yahoo channel or the channel or the google channel. Assuming your favorite search engine is even offered as a channel. Many smaller services probably won’t be.

Maybe it won’t be quite this bad.

Maybe you’ll just have to buy a package, like for cable TV. Sure, you’ll be able to get a basic Internet package, with some search engine you never heard of. To get the one you want, you’ll have to buy a premium package. It will be like sorting through the HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax packages on DirecTV to see which ones offer the programs you actually want to watch. Let’s see, which package has Facebook? Which has MySpace? Which has YouTube? Or you’ll be able to buy a platinum all-inclusive package. If you want to spend that much.

Craigslist may not be anywhere on such a duopoly Internet, because it probably won’t be able to afford to pay the duopoly to get into a package. Upstart new companies very likely won’t be able to afford it. Don’t expect any new YouTubes or MySpaces or Facebooks.

Didn’t I mention that part? You’ll get to pay extra to get the package, and each content provider will also get to pay extra to be in the package. This is all on top of what you already pay your first-mile Internet provider, and on top of what the content provider already pays to connect to the Internet.

So instead of paying for a certain speed level and getting to connect to whatever you want to on the whole Internet worldwide like you do now, you’ll get bits and chunks of a commoditized and monetized Internet that the telcos and cablecos choose to provide to you.

How do I know that the cablecos and telcos want to do something like this?

Because Time Warner was a big backer of the recent changes to paper postal service rates, which give an easy ride to big companies such as itself, while hiking rates for small newsletters and magazines. What’s the theory behind these rate hikes? “Each party pays the cost of service it consumes, not less, and does not bear the cost of others’ consumption.” Toll roads everywhere.

Because the same kind of rate hikes are already being imposed on Internet radio, plus content control.

Because AT&T just demonstrated the kind of content you can expect by censoring Pearl Jam and other bands on its Blue Room music concert webcasts. Not for “obscenity”, as AT&T admits it does. For criticising the U.S. president and government policies.

Because the CEO of AT&T (past and present) has said he wants content providers to pay for going through “their network” and that IPTV is what they want to emphasize: We’re going to control the video on our network. The content guys will have to make a deal with us.”

Because AT&T is already failing to provide at least one of the inexpensive access methods it promised when the FCC let it merge with Bellsouth.

Because this is the way the cable companies already operate for cable TV.

Because a judge has said that AT&T’s U-Verse IPTV offering is cable TV.

Because the CEO of Time Warner thinks the duopoly are the Sioux Indians and net neutrality proponents are General Custer waiting to get slaughtered at Little Big Horn. (I am not making that up.)

So that’s what you can expect: the Internet turned into cable TV. Today’s open access to anything you can find throughout the world and open participation by you in whatever you want turned into just another one-way broadcast content medium delivered through toll roads where the duopoly sets the tolls and decides what can travel over them. You get to pay to watch.

If you do try to participate, and can still find any channels to do it, be prepared to be disconnected whenever you go over some bandwidth limit that you’re never told about, as already happens to Comcast users. Auctioned too much on the eBay channel? So sorry; you’re off the net. Write a lot of well-researched, closely reasoned, and well-presented legal arguments on a popular political forum? That unknown bandwidth limit seems to apply to you: you’re off the net.

Is that what you want?

If not, you’d best do something about it. Contact your Congress member and Senator, and maybe also Rep. Markey, chair of the House Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee. Don’t forget your state and local representatives; Verizon is lobbying hard to get state TV franchise taxes repealed so it can offer TV packages through its Internet service.

Talk to your friends. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper. Comment on your local TV station’s web pages.

Maybe you’re lucky and you live in Japan, Korea, France, Poland, Portugal, or one of the other fourteen countries that already get Internet access up to 60 times as fast as in the U.S. because your country actually has four or more first-mile Internet access providers. If so, don’t just count your blessings; keep after your government to keep the Internet open. And if you’re in the U.S., mention to your elected representatives that we need the playing field leveled in the U.S., too: effective regulation for effective market competition.

Keep up with what’s going on with net neutrality and Internet freedom. You won’t find much about it on TV or your local newspaper, so try And check back here on Peerflow.

Finally, if you can find local competition to the Internet access duopoly, consider becoming a customer.

You don’t have to do all of this. But if you want to keep the Internet free, you’ll want to do something.


Updated 9PM 3 Sep 2007 with some clarifications.