UPDATED 13:19 EDT / MARCH 21 2009

Internet as Infrastructure: Why Pay for What You Aren’t Using?

image Mark Cuban is once again beating the drum of ala carte Internet and anti-P2Pism in a blog post over at his site, BlogMaverick. In his trademark incendiary style, he asks his audience: “Why do Internet People Think Content People are Stupid?”

In the update for his post, he puts it like this:

I only go to maybe 10 sites regularly. I get RSS feeds for another 50. Why should I have to pay for the resources required to provide access to the other 10zillion sites that consume resources ? Why shouldn’t I only pay for the 10 I go to ? I never go to sites like Revision 3, why should I contribute to the infrastructure required to support it. If they want to reach me, let them spend some marketing money and convince me to pay for their content.

Why should I pay for my ISP to provide bandwidth for P2P downloaders ? I only want to pay for the bandwidth I consume, not a bit more. 99pct of the sites i use are text based information sites. Why should I pay for the bandwidth I might consume  ? I only use the internet 8 hours or so a day, why should i pay for the other 16 hours in a day?

Aside from the fact that this general philosophy goes against the grain of the principles that the Internet was built on, more plainly, it stops treating the ‘Net as infrastructure, and attempts to treat it as some sort of buffet from the Golden Coral.

But just like the highway system, the ‘Net is infrastructure.  Liken the “series of tubes” to a “series of roads,” and liken each website on the Internet (be they a purveyor of text, picture or video content) to the restaurants, shops and theatres you commonly see on the side of the road.

What Mark Cuban wants is for every road on the Internet to be a toll road – allowing drivers to pay only what they use.  With it comes a number of downsides. Building out that infrastructure will balloon in cost because just as with highway construction, information infrastructure build-outs come with economies of scale.  There are also logistical problems and overhead with every road being a toll-road. 

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The cost of everything will go up, since every user can’t simply pull over the side of the Internet and put some change in a toll booth. That means there will have to be an extra layer to information protocols that tracks usage of where and how every packet is used.  This will increase network overhead, and thus the expense of using each connector to the Internet.

It’s much simpler, for highway construction and Internet usage, to have a blanket usage model.  Our payments to our respective ISPs are analogous to paying the taxes that build and maintain our roads.

Certainly, ala carte Internet access is feasible, but I’m not sure what benefits it brings us either as users, content producers, or purveyors of access.

In other words, if it isn’t broke, why should we fix it?


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