Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Pay-To-Play Internet: A Fable

In this fable, you are about to attend a conference. It is a medium-size conference, so that it fits in one hotel... all sessions are held in conference rooms of various sizes within the hotel; most of the attendees stay in rooms in the hotel, etc. The hotel is not overbooked: getting from your room to a session is not obstructed by, e.g., too many people crowding the halls. Some attendees may pay a bit more to strategize the location of their room to reduce distance to conference rooms or elevator wait time, but getting to and from any room and a given session is not in and of itself anticipated to be an issue. The cost of the conference rooms is paid as part of the conference fee, which is on a per-attendee basis: no differentiation is made among attendees.

On the morning of the opening session, everyone leaves his or her room, heading for the grand conference hall. To everyone's surprise, there are "Security" personnel stationed at every hall intersection and every elevator entrance. The security folks wear hats labeled "ATTComcastVerizon" and are also wearing a change belt like an old-fashioned bus driver. As you leave your room, the first of these "Security" officers approaches you and says, "That'll be five bucks, please!" She will not let you pass her station in the hall until you give her five dollars.

When you reach the elevator, there's another "Security" officer, who demands $10 to allow you onto the elevator. You protest; he responds, "Well, you could always pay ATTComcastVerizon $1000 a day for an all-day hall/elevator pass." You do not see right away what service these "Security" officers perform related to the conference, but you are expected at the opening session, so you pay your sawbuck and ride to the lobby. After another $5 to transit the hallway to the grand conference hall and another $5 to enter the grand hall, you finally hear the first session. There are a lot of justifiably angry people in the audience.

Over lunch you do a bit of phoning and texting to find out WTF is going on with these hallway/elevator fees. Despite a lot of close-mouthed people, you manage to learn that ATTComcastVerizon secretly negotiated a deal with the hotel to allow ATTComcastVerizon to collect these fees. All the big companies already knew about this, and prepaid their attendees' $1000 daily pass fees in advance; none of those attendees was ever unintentionally late for a session. On the other hand, you, and every other small-business attendee, are busily scrounging and stuffing your pockets with $5 and $10 bills, but even so, the lines at each of the Security stations on every hallway and at every elevator entry are so long that everyone is late to every session... except those who work for the big corp's; they breeze right through.

"This never happened before!" you blurt out to one of the Security officers. "That's how things are now, buddy; get used to it. The Federal Crapola Commission (FCC) ruled that we can do this, and do it we most certainly will."

Thus ends our fable... unless our very own FCC turns it into reality this week. You might want to scream bloody murder at a few FCC officials before the decision is made mere days from now...

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