Tiered Internet sticks potential in steerage
DOES the Information Superhighway need a toll-road HOV lane? Does your e-mail need next-nanosecond delivery? Do you need the same kind of dedicated line to watch music videos that Vice President Dick Cheney uses to teleconference from his secure, undisclosed location?
Internet providers want big spenders to have these things, for a price, of course -- a kind of fast-pass to cut in line outside a virtual Space Mountain.
According to CNET.com, the telecommunications industry wants an extra cut of the action and, if allowed, they'd section off the Net the same way the White Star Line organized social classes on the Titanic. Many fear an online caste system would stifle innovation.
As it stands right now, the birthday party photos I forwarded to my sister bounce around in the same sandbox that Amazon.com uses to ship her whatever Oprah tells her to read. Internet providers want to offer higher-octane access to those with bigger engines and deeper pockets.
Their opponents, meanwhile, like Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon (who introduced preventative legislation in Congress this month), want phone and cable companies to accept their rightful, lower-profile place alongside other utilities.
After all, while rich people can buy huge TVs, expensive clothes and nonstop flights to Europe in seats that recline all the way back, there are always social limits. Even they can't write a check so big it would allow them to flush a pot roast down the toilet.
At basic levels, we all have to be on the same playing field.
And just like a rising tide raises all ships, tech advances raise the bar not only for excellence, but for mediocrity as well. This is perhaps best illustrated by example.
Weeks ago, using a cheap USB mic and GarageBand software, I created a song called "digitalslob fever," and uploaded it to my Web site.
Thanks to royalty-free music loops, drag and drop functionality and my wife's voice (she owed me a favor for making me sit through a matinee of "Chicken Little"), I made a song -- rancid and abysmal by every measure -- but a song nonetheless. It's still free for the taking online, I suppose the same way a smoldering tire fire would be free for anyone willing to cart it away.
However, as bad as it is now, if I took it back in time to 1982, I'm pretty sure I could get a record deal and air time on MTV between "Mickey" by Toni Basil and "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls.
The point, however, is that the song was made and is available, thanks, in part, to Internet speeds fast enough (and cheap enough) to move it around, and to an ego big enough to insist I waste an entire day making it.
But if I'm ever to take my musical career to the next level, from mediocre 80s one-hit-wonder to mediocre 21st century Mozart, you can bet I will need a smarter application, bigger memory and a faster Internet -- and for roughly the same price. Any more investment on the front end would require some initial talent -- and a divorce.
But given those same tools, imagine what someone with true abilities would be able to accomplish.
Let's not create a Web that stifles the best singer on the ship way back in steerage. Let's push all our pipe dreams through the same pipe.