12.01.10

Finding an onramp to the internet highway

Posted in Society, Travel at 17:56 by RjZ

I’ve been traveling lately with my internet enabled smartphone. Alright, it’s an iPhone if you really must know, but that isn’t the point. It’s not like I’ve really used it much. In the United States there are some reliable places to get free wireless internet access including libraries and coffee shops, and there may be similar places Europe or Japan, but I didn’t discover them and certainly not when I needed to. (For what it’s worth, there were considerably more of them in Japan than in Europe.)

Today, the internet access providers are gatekeepers to the internet. Where I live, that’s my work and at home my television cable monopoly: Comcast. Even if Comcast and other access providers don’t see it this way, many of their customers see them like a utility. They provide us pipes to get at the useful data out there on the internet. They charge us to get on the internet superhighway and read the billboards that we’re interested in. Unfortunately, for travelers, this access is fixed to a given location, like where the pipes (cables) go, or maybe better a region, like the service area of our mobile network.

It might be very annoying to have to pay for content use on the internet–I wonder if it would have grown the way it has, but I offer up the idea here to see what you think. Imagine if weather reports, news, movie reviews, Facebook, whatever were on a fee per use or subscription basis. It’s not like we’ve never heard of this: much of the internet is only available at extra cost (Netflix, Flickr Pro accounts, porn sites), except you’re paying twice. First to get on the internet superhighway, and then again to use the premium subscription. Other services, such as the above mentioned news, weather, and Facebook could choose to offer their services free of charge, now as before, funded by ad revenue; it’s not like they’re receiving any revenue from internet access now.

The way it works today, Comcast makes money off the infrastructure they put in place to get internet to my door (earned) and my interest in using it to get a weather report (not earned). Comcast doesn’t seem to get this. They imagine that they, too, are content providers. They want me to use their pipes to get television, HD programming (free over the air), premium programming and on-demand programming. Problem is, I don’t want any of their services. If they are pro-rating the price of just feeding internet juice to my house in an effort to encourage me to pay for their content, it isn’t working. Charge me whatever is appropriate for pipes full of content and stop trying to hoist you’re inconveniently packaged programming on me. The people with local monopoly on internet pipes are highly protective of how they’re used because and worse they’re in competition with at least part of the reason I want to use those pipes in the first place.

Comcast is in the news for this very conflict: it seems they want to charge one of these content providers (indirectly, Netflix) extra. Makes sense to them. Thanks to Netflix, I am using their internet pipes more than I was before, so I accept they may wish to charge me more for that bandwidth, but that’s not the deal I have with them today. If Comcast and other internet access providers would recognize their roles as utlities I think they’d have a much better, and honest, relationship with their customers.

If the internet were offered like a utility it might be more available to travelers as well. I’d have paid a few cents to get the weather anywhere I was in Japan and it’d been easier to view if I didn’t have to download as many ads! Maybe I’d find the weather on an ad-supported free website too. Meanwhile the city would be offering up the internet at a variety of locations like many do with drinking fountains. Mmmm, fresh internet juice. What do you think?

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