The Null Device

What if the internet was like the mobile phone system?

What would happen if network neutrality rules were eliminated and internet carriers were free to set the terms for what goes through their networks? Well, the internet could look a lot more like the mobile phone system:
Imagine you want to create a user-moderated news service like digg.com that operates on SMS. On the neutral Internet, you rent a Web server ($7-$100 per month to start), register your name, and start programming. Total time required: less then two hours in most cases. But getting a service on the non-neutral US cell phone network would be a little different:
The next step is satisfying the requirements of the cell phone companies. Many of these steps, such as requiring affirmative opt-in before a subscription can start, are not burdensome, and serve to protect the carriers' customers. Others, however, border on ludicrous. Requirements vary by carrier, but some prohibit operators from offering games or sweepstakes, or require that subscription periods can only be monthly: not daily, weekly, or yearly. Others require that content, such as ringtones, be locked so users can't forward them from their phones to their friends' phones.
In practical terms, you'd never get approval for your brand new peer-mediated news service. Even if you were able to set up filters to block images and bad words, you'd still be sunk: Verizon prohibits "un-moderated chatting, flirting and/or peer-to-peer communication services."
Even if you could slip your service past the censors, you would already have been set back eight weeks and many thousands of dollars -- and this is just the beginning. Next, the carrier will charge you a fee (a few cents, typically) for every message you send to your users, and charge your users to receive your messages -- and charge them to send you messages. Just imagine where craigslist.org would be if it had to pay a few cents every time someone browsed an ad, and you had to pay as well. It's no wonder SMS services are overpriced and haven't grown beyond a niche market for ringtones and horoscopes.
And along a similar line: Sidewalk Neutrality

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