Sunday, February 05, 2006

Want your voice heard? Pay up!

here's giving freedom of speech a whole new twist: if you want your voice heard, you should be able to pay for it.

came across this article: "Postage is due for Companies sending email"

now the naive thinking is "So what? I don't have to pay, it's the companies." Please think again: who does business with the companies: we, the consumers. Each company exists for a sole purpose: to provide some service to some consumer. And in this day and age of the Internet, email notifications, confirmations and transactions are more mainstream than ever before. So like the sales taxes, if a company has to pay some extra fees to deliver the information we need to us, guess who's going to pay for it finally.

And this has serious complications as well. Like entropy, the monies collected by the companies will never reduce, making them richer and more powerful on the Net. If they are able to exercise a level of control this strong already, imagine what they'll be when they are orders of magnitude richer.

The analogy given by Yahoo and AOL is that we already pay for posting stuff through snail mail, so why not this? But before we go into that, lets read between the lines. Why do AOL and Yahoo now want to charge the companies for this?

Answer: they maintain mailboxes, mail-servers, mail-applications and the like for millions of accounts for free. Free for the user, that is. Someone obviously pays for it. Right now, its either the company itself or advertisers who foot the bill (a la GMail) or other paying users. Users paying a yearly / monthly fee (Comcast, Yahoo, AOL, MSN etc.) for connectivity get free email accounts from that company, and some of that fees can pay for the other "free" users.

They are concerned that they aren't getting enough benefit from the free accounts: the users aren't clicking on the ads enough or simply aren't paying enough. But they don't want to look as the bad guys forcing users to pay because that's simply going to cause millions of users to not have accounts with them and move to some that still have free accounts, or worse, retreat from the Net altogether. Each scenario leads to shunning of the Net and bad bad news for all these Net companies.

So what's the option? Like sales taxes, charge the service providers/ businesses. They will pay and then charge their clients for it! Brilliant!

To support their argument, they also claim that this will help curb spam as spammers will have to pay for everything they send out. Well, the people who stuff your snail-mail-boxes with junk mail sure pay the post-office, but does that stop us from getting junk mail? Truth be told, junk mail figures out you've moved faster than legit mail. I believe this argument is simply to get users on board.

So coming back to the original question: why not pay for this the same way we pay for snail-mail? Because it hampers business. Though it seems that for the short term the companies involved will make a whole lot of money, prices on the net will generally increase, leading to lower number of transactions. In short, the same detrimental effect of a monopoly (or oligopoly, cartel if you will).

Plus, we as consumers already pay for connecting to the Net. So why should it matter if we connect to one server versus another when it is already paid for? I certainly am not in favor of paying more.

So if I have to bet money on the future of this debate, where would I put it? Well, honestly with Yahoo and AOL having their way and charging, of course. We, the consumers are free to dissent. As long as we pay for it.

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