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Internet Politics

for some odd reason, the public seems to think that free Internet access is a right

As I write this, one month after the election, I am tempted to say that by the time you read it, we will know who our next president will be. Having already read a couple of articles that started with that premise, I'll play it safe - we may not know!

The interest in politics might lead one to ask how computer users are affected by government policy. Some effects are fairly obvious. If the government decides that all school children should have computers, or that all people outside of metropolitan areas should have Internet access, both computer manufacturers and Internet service providers will benefit.

Given the nearly universal commitment to providing more money for education, and the growing demand by consumers for more Internet access, it looks like a rosy future for the computer industry and Internet service providers. In fact, it seems like anyone associated with computers or the Internet should do well for the foreseeable future.

Is there anything to worry about? After all, times are good, and Congress seems unable to say no to anyone.

Use of the Internet has always been free. Of course, as we all know, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. The Internet is heavily subsidized by the government, and there have already been attempts to charge users for access - and there will be more.

For some odd reason, the public seems to think that free Internet access is a right. You may have seen a TV commercial that makes that point as if it were true.

But, as we have seen in politics time and again, perception is reality, and it would be difficult to eliminate free Internet access. There are, however, at least two ways that access fees could be painlessly introduced.

The first is the same way used to provide free broadcast TV - sell advertising space. This is already used by some companies to provide free dial-up service or web sites. The user pays nothing, but has to put up with advertising.

The other is to set up two parallel Internets. One would remain free, the other would be an improved system with greater capacity, offering better service for a fee.

Now that the Internet is an established part of business, there is no way to turn back. This commitment ensures further development and improved services, but it also makes it much easier to charge fees for something no one will want to give up.

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2001 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, 
on the web at 
January 2001

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