FREEDOM IS A HEALTH ISSUE
If you believe that blogs like this one are going to be allowed to continue forever, guess again. Because the internet is just another government-created program that conservatives and their corporate masters are looking to privatize. And once that happens, companies like Yahoo! and Google and AOL/Time Warner will decide what you see. It will no longer be up to you.Here's their first step:
Companies will soon have to buy the electronic equivalent of a postage stamp if they want to be certain that their e-mail will be delivered to many of their customers.America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. Thy also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted.AOL and Yahoo will still accept e-mail from senders who have not paid, but the paid messages will be given special treatment. On AOL, for example, they will go straight to users' main mailboxes, and will not have to pass the gantlet of spam filters that could divert them to a junk-mail folder or strip them of images and Web links. As is the case now, mail arriving from addresses that users have added to their AOL address books will not be treated as spam. Yahoo and AOL say the new system is a way to restore some order to e-mail, which, because of spam and worries about online scams, has become an increasingly unreliable way for companies to reach their customers, even as online transactions are becoming a crucial part of their businesses."The last time I checked, the postal service has a very similar system to provide different options," said Nicholas Graham, an AOL spokesman. He pointed to services like certified mail, "where you really do get assurance that if what you send is important to you, it will be delivered, and delivered in a way that is different from other mail."But critics of the plan say that the two companies risk alienating both their users and the companies that send e-mail. The system will apply not only to mass mailings but also to individual commercial messages like order confirmations from online stores and customized low-fare notices from airlines. "AOL users will become dissatisfied when they don't receive the e-mail that they want, and when they complain to the senders, they'll be told, 'it's AOL's fault,' " said Richi Jennings, an analyst at Ferris Research, which specializes in e-mail.As for companies that send e-mail, "some will pay, but others will object to being held to ransom," he said. "A big danger is that one of them will be big enough to encourage AOL users to use a different e-mail service."In a broader sense, the move to create what is essentially a preferred class of e-mail is a major change in the economics of the Internet. Until now, senders and recipients of e-mail — and, for that matter, Web pages and other information — each covered their own costs of using the network, with no money changing hands. That model is different from, say, the telephone system, in which the company whose customer places a call pays a fee to the company whose customer receives it. The prospect of a multitiered Internet has received a lot of attention recently after executives of several large telecommunications companies, including BellSouth and AT& T, suggested that they should be paid not only by the subscribers to their Internet services but also by companies that send large files to those subscribers, including music and video clips. Those files would then be given priority over other data, a change from the Internet's basic architecture which treats all data in the same way.This Tuesday the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to consider legislation for what has been called Net neutrality — effectively banning Internet access companies from giving preferred status to certain providers of content. The concern is that companies that do not pay could find it hard to reach customers or attract new ones, threatening the openness of the Internet.You can bet that these telecommunications companies will be shoveling huge amounts of cash into the campaign coffers of the Senate Commerce committee.