I had a discussion with a friend recently about the future, specifically the future of the internet. He works in technology, is arguably more plugged in than I am, and yet his contention was this: If Comcast can charge customers for access the higher bandwitdths, then the internet as we know it will change forever. no longer will there be a low barrier to entry and innovation, but it will be restricted to those who can pay a premium.
I respect my friend, and think he’s brilliant. He is also correct in the sense that if you can charge for getting your content to consumers, then the only content consumers will see will be produced by deep pocketed corporations.
But he misses two important things in this view. The first, most important, is that Comcast will be able to get away with this for a year or two at most. The most remarkable thing about our era is not the internet itself, but the innovation constantly being applied behind the scenes. I remember using the Prodigy service ages ago, and playing simple graphic games over a dial-up modem (28.8K, if I remember it correctly). Will people be willing to return to this level of technology if Comcast sits on bandwidth like an elephant on a water hose? Probably not. But they won’t have to, because while Comcast thinks they control the flow of the water, a million leaks are going to spring up to get the water where it needs to go.
And that leads to the second thing my friend missed: he thinks it’s all about selling to customers. But the internet is more about communicating than it is about selling. Sure, Comcast might dent the money making aspects of the internet, but I think that overall, they cannot prevent the flow of ideas. Look at Twitter: 140 characters to get your point across, and it takes so little resources, that even if Comcast cut off Twitter itself, a thousand clones would spring up inside of a week.
Comcast (and the government) want control of the internet. But I think that they are reacting to what has happened in the last ten years, and are unable to even predict where the next ten might take us.