I wrote yesterday about the potential for the Internet to become fragmented and subdivided so that it would be many separate internets rather than a vehicle for open international communication. Traditionally this kind of subdivision is called balkanization, though I called it cantonization because of the current example of the great Chinese firewall [China’s Golden Shield]. What you see as the Internet when you log on in many countries around the world is only a portion of what you’ll see from other locations. There are some other important issues related to this fragmentation of the net.
A related issue—the paywall: You know, there’s also another wall being erected—the paywall—so that only those who pay will have access to full information. This is substantially different from erecting firewalls based on the content of pages, but it has a similar effect. If the paywall price is low enough, people will still have access to information, and if successful, it will allow organizations to generate revenues from their content. But, nevertheless, it is another way to build walls around online content.
My personal take on this is that a micro-payments content model does make sense and would not fragment the net into haves and have-nots. If I can go, for instance, to the New York Times online and pay a few pennies for access to an article, I’d do it. And I’d use other sources at other times, also for pennies each time. If, however, a single source tries to charge me a monthly or yearly fee, I’m less likely to use them because I don’t get all of my content from single sources any more—I get things from broadly-distributed locations. From the customer standpoint, I consider the single-source subscription model to be a restrictive model that doesn’t work well, but I love micro-payments.
A related issue—net neutrality: One of the original principles of the Internet was that all bits would be equal – in other words, nobody’s bits would be transmitted faster than anybody else’s bits. However, recently, network neutrality has been the subject of legislative scrutiny and proposals made recently would allow bandwidth providers to charge more for “priority” delivery of bits (services) — this would allow a content company to provide a premium service, pay a bandwidth provider to give it priority delivery, and thus supply their branded services to customers faster than other services. One of the fears about this is that it might leave the large bulk of webs sites and services (who might not be able to pay for premium delivery) at a disadvantage, and with little or limited public access to their services because they’d be prioritized so low. Further, local last-mile providers of connectivity to homes and businesses might start charging for the premium services, and might even delay or drop the services that didn’t pay for expedited delivery. This could lead to what I’d call economic cantonization of the net.
[Photo of road sign “Road narrows ahead”]