It’s a time-honoured tradition in capitalist societies: as soon as the big companies catch on to what’s popular (which sometimes takes a few days, as in the case of yearly toy fads, or a few years, as is the case with social media), they up the prices. Cause and effect, I suppose, but also supply and demand. If there’s a demand, they can put a cap on the supply – which is exactly what price markups equate to.
But where does that stop, precisely? Obviously price sharking living necessities like food or (dare I say) oil is supposed to be illegal, but how do you determine what’s a “life necessity”?
As of this writing I’m 25 years of age: I’m a member of possibly the last generation who still remember what life was like before Google gave us the answers to all of life’s questions. I grew up in a world that went from boom boxes and Walkmans to iPods and MP3s in the span of a short fifteen or so years. As a child I dreamed of the day when I could pass the boredom of long family car trips with my own personal TV; I longed for the privilege of a first-generation Game Boy that would have been a close second. Now, if I so desired, I could go pick up a Play Station Portable that basically functions as both. Or, contrarily, I could pull out an iPhone and surf the internet anywhere that wireless access is available. And yet, somehow, I only bought my first cell phone (ever) around this time last year.
The reason I bring this up is because, prior to owning a cell, I considered such devices frivolous toys – luxuries only required by high-powered business types or as emergency communication devices in vehicles. Now, barely a year since my fateful purchase, I’m connected to the damn thing at the hip. I can’t imagine being without it. The nature of the work I do requires that I be constantly available for contact, or I risk missing out on jobs, so I carry my cell phone around with me everywhere. And yes, I have passed the time on transit playing the little billiards game that comes installed.
My point is, for better or worse, in a lot of ways my phone has become a “life necessity”. But the price I pay for access to a communication network is reasonable, and the phone itself was dirt cheap (yes, compared to new-generation Blackberries or iPhones, it’s a piece of shit, but who cares? It’s a phone.) It’s an accepted fact that I only have a certain number of minutes I can use based on what I pay, and that’s fine.
The internet is a somewhat different animal.
It’s one thing to limit the number of outgoing minutes you can use on a cell phone – you can get around that through unlimited texting packages or even by keeping your phone calls brief (my preferred method since I hate talking on the phone). But telephone calls and texts are static data totals. I seriously doubt a text could get much bigger than a few hundred kilobytes, even if you were texting “War and Peace”.
With the internet it’s much different.
Think about it for a second: when I first got the internet back in 2002 (when I moved out of my parents’ place and went to school) I was on a dial-up connection running a first-generation Pentium. It was an exercise in futility trying to download anything, but at least I could load web pages. These days you can’t even load a simple news page without having your system bogged down by flash and HTML all over the place. A dial-up connection would take the rest of my natural life trying to load CNN, let alone (God forbid) somebody’s tricked-out Myspace page.
Now consider the amount of media available online these days. A typical audio file (and this is a completed song, never mind a WAV file you require to do any kind of audio mixing) runs about 10kb, and the average movie is well over a gigabyte. Leaving aside the legality of downloading this material, that’s a massive amount of information passing through your system. Even if you’re paying for that material, it’s not as though your credit card turns that data into something smaller than it is. And how many people do you know (legally or illegally) download music and movies like they’re going out of style?
Take me for example. As a musician, in addition to my original work I regularly play cover-based shows for an additional paycheque (because drunks will pay a lot of money to hear somebody play “Sweet Home Alabama” right in front of them so they can sing along poorly and repeatedly smash their hands on the table, albeit out-of-rhythm). In order to keep my set fresh I have to routinely learn new songs, because God forbid I play a country bar and not know how to play the latest Kenny Chesney single. As a result, downloading music is, in a way, part of my job. It’s research.
Same thing with the blog, believe it or not. Regular readers of this blog will note that I cover a great deal of different material – everything from music, to movies and television shows, to websites – basically everything you could imagine under the name “pop culture”. In order to stay on top of current events and continue to provide you, my valued reader, with top-notch entertainment, I have to immerse myself in culture – and there’s no faster, more efficient way to do that than by making use of the internet.
And I’m far from alone in this, my friends. I’m sure you’re all in similar boats. So what, then, do you have to say about this?
Here’s the Coles notes. Anybody remember last year when Time/Warner decided to put a cap on broadband usage? Well, they got overruled, but apparently it didn’t stick. Major service providers including TW and AT&T are taking another crack at “usage-based” or “metered” payment plans. To the layman, this means that if you download, say, 150 gigabytes a month, it’s going to cost you a certain amount, after which point you’re cut off. A company in Texas has been doing this for a year already, except they only levy a surcharge for every gigabyte you go over your maximum. But if the major providers get their way, your internet use will be limited to whatever they deem acceptable.
Here’s my take: the internet is the single most democratic invention in human history. It affords us limitless knowledge (if you know how to sort through the bullshit) and connects us in ways our parents could only imagine. It gives everyone a voice (Youtube and blogging are the most obvious outlets) and allows us to access just about any media created anywhere on the planet, ostensibly for a nominal fee (depending on your personal morality). Most importantly, it’s a technology that’s been consistently developed, nurtured and supported by the companies that own the provider networks. So what gives?
I know it’s a bit of a slippery slope, but how far does this go? How long between “you’re only allowed X amount of internet time” and base censorship of the internet in general? Who has the right to tell us what we can and cannot access?
I for one stand wholly in opposition to this move. Blogging does not pay nearly as well as you might think, and since I’m already paying for a service that allows me to do my job to the best of my ability, I’ll be damned if somebody is going to tell me exactly how many times I can go back to that well. Isn’t it enough that we already have to work and pay through the nose just to be fed and sheltered? Now they’re going to take away my porn?
I mean, my research materials. Yes. That’s precisely what I meant.
Give me your feedback, folks. I know a lot of you know way more about the intricacies of the internet than I do. Tell me if I’m wrong – but more important, tell me if I’m right.