28 November 2005

Juxtaposition of the Incongruent

Two juxtaposed posts on boingboing today that are striking in their demonstration of the fundamental tension of the Internet today. One aspect of that tension are those who are vested in an Industrial Age model of business and enterprise, while the other represents "network thinking," characteristic of a UCaPP - ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate - world.

In the first corner are the telcos who consider the Internet as nothing more than a transport mechanism (that they own) for content (of which they want a part for the privilege of transporting). These are folks who consider the Internet as nothing more than a broadcast medium, as was radio, television, and heck - even telegraph. Doc Searls has a thought-provoking (if a tad long) essay that discusses Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes. Consider what is on the telco's agenda. Here's Edward Whiteacre, CEO of SBC, the "baby bell" that just swallowed AT&T, one of the world's premier, tier 1 ISPs, as quoted in BusinessWeek: "The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!" Why has the Internet become so important to the world of both commerce and culture? Simply because the Internet grew before short-sighted, greedy people - behaviours exemplified by Whiteacre - could stick their hooks in it. Searls observes,
As a place, the Net has always been independent of the carriage on which it relies, which is one reason it also encourages and rewards independence. The independence of the Net and its inhabitants is precisely what accounts for countless new businesses and improved old ones...

Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren't screwing up the Net because they're "Friends of Bush" or "Friends of Hollywood" or liberals or conservatives. They're doing it because one way of framing the Net - as a transport system for content - is winning over another way of framing the Net - as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive. Otherwise helpful documents, including Ernest Partridge's "After the Internet" fail because they blame "Bush-friendly conservative corporations" and appeal only to one political constituency, in this case, progressives. Freedom, independence, the sovereignty of the individual, private rights and open frontiers are a few among many values shared by progressives and conservatives. All are better supported, in obvious ways, by the Net as a place rather than as a transport system.

In the other corner is someone who is not afraid of the changes, and in fact, has thrived because the changes have freed her from the indentured servitude that the old business models represent. Jane Siberry, a marvellous musicians whose music I have loved for years, has created a truly UCaPP business for promoting and selling her music. As the EFF's Fred von Lohmann describes it,
Her new download store, recently unveiled at her site, is a model of what the music downloading world could be. All of her songs are available as plain MP3s, which means they will play on your iPod and are not loaded with DRM restrictions (much less evil rootkits).

And you pay whatever you like for them. Yes, you set whatever price you like. Options include:

* free ("gift from Jane");
* a standard price (CAN$0.99);
* self-determined price - pay now; or
* self-determined price - pay later (to facilitate try-before-you-buy).

When you purchase the song, moreover, you can select up to 5 people to whom you can email a link to the song... She summed it up this way: "I want to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I don't like being treated like a child, so I won't be doing that to other people."
Go check out her site, and her music. You won't be disappointed by either the quality of her singing, or the quality of her business acumen.
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Anonymous said...

As for a potential hijacking of the net big big telco...I envision a wireless, dynamic, peer-to-peer networking infrastructure in the future, where each node, say a mobile device, acts as both internet service provider and subscriber, casting and catching bandwidth to and from other nodes within radio range. That could, however, put us in the same pickle, only with wireless carriers staking the same claims put forth by Whiteacre. But a Ham-radio or citizens band approach to wireless communications could prevent such a grab by wireless carriers.

Mark Federman said...

In fact, your comment is along the lines of what Doc Searls suggests in the form of people reclaiming the net via WiFi mesh networks, and municipal WiFi and eventually WiMax networks.

Whiteacre's thinking is echoed by his friend at BellSouth, as described here, with the Slashdot commentary, "BellSouth wants to rig the Internet," here.