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The Coming Internet Protection Racket or Rentier Digital Capitalism

Without Common Carrier status, predatory companies like Comcast will inevitably start demanding a take of any profitable new economic activity dependent on the Internet. They will be able to use the threat of arbitrary service disruption to make demands on independent businesses. They will also start offering "tiered" services, where access to various protocols will be dependent on paying for special "elite" or "gold" subscriber status. Running a website will be out of the question without paying an assortment of special fees, split among a consortium of business interests and justified by appealing to precedents like HDTV and "Trusted Platform Computing." There will be legal and antitrust wrangling over the matter, but how effective has that been recently against digital age would-be monopolists? (Think Microsoft.)
Read  http://www.eff.org/testyourisp for a little preview of what is in store as Comcast starts rolling out new packet control techniques.

They were impeded in their efforts most recently by the FCC's intervention. Now that the high court's ruling has tied FCC's hands, though, how long will it be before Comcast and other ISPs explore any and all strategies for improving their revenues as vertically integrated "information providers" instead of broadband carriers?


A review of Comcast's tactics makes perfectly clear what they are capable of. This is a predatory company not above sending in hired goons to public hearings to block participation by concerned citizens. See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing#cite_ref-59 for examples.

They are currently very likely applying similar "astroturf" tactics in blogs and other online forums to generate the appearance of popular opposition to any FCC regulations of their business practices. There is even a word for this kind of thing: "FUD", standing for "fear-uncertainty-doubt." One doesn't have to make any real, concrete logical arguments for this tactic to work. One simply needs to generate vague insinuations, with words like "FCC power grab!" or "keep the govt's hands off the internet!" etc etc. This kind of content-free blather plays quite well in many circles, never mind any actual facts.

It will take little time for Comcast and the rest to devise ways to increase the profitability of their businesses by essentially charging protection money to anyone offering a profitable online business or service. They will be able to do this gradually, at whatever speed suits them and that they think minimizes public uproar. They will find ways to "partner" with the many other big businesses that currently oppose their plans, in order to maneuver the latter into a separate peace, slicing down opposition until what remains is a ragtag group of underfunded public interest advocates, led by EFF, against cartels of giant business interests that will include all the current big names. They will use much the same approach that produced DMCA, HDTV, "Trusted Platform Computing," and all the other toxic, monopolist schemes currently gathering a head of steam in the digital technology world. Microsoft, Google, and all the rest will eventually agree to split the carcass of the formerly free Internet with them, just as they've already agreed to go along with DMCA et al.

If enough people don't raise a helluva ruckus real quickly over this, we are potentially headed into a pretty apocalyptic new Dark Ages for digital communications, in the US and the world. We could see a kind of "free enterprise" version of China's totalitarian online system. It will be worse in some ways, because more insidious and less obviously government-controlled. Instead, it will be a tiered system that reinforces the power and wealth of the already powerful and wealthy. It will be a mirror image of the rest of the American economy and society. It will largely be the end of any potential for digital communications as a liberatory force.