Verizon's diabolical plan to turn the Web into pay-per-view

The carrier wants to charge websites for carrying their packets, but if they win it'd be the end of the Internet as we know it

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That's so crazy I won't bother to address it. But the FCC has done such a poor job of spelling out what it thinks it has the right to regulate and how that should work that the door is wide open for the carriers' bizarre -- not to mention anticonsumer -- strategies and arguments.

I don't want to get down in the regulatory weeds, but there is one bit of legalese that's worth knowing: common carrier. Simply put, it means that the company doing the shipping can't mess with the contents. A railroad is a common carrier, and as such it can't decide whose cargo it will carry and whose it won't.

Before railroads were common carriers, they did things like favor products made by John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil, which made him even richer and also led to the creation of a wildly out-of-control monopoly. (Yeshiva's Crawford has an in-depth but readable explanation of these issues in her book "Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age."

But the FCC has never ruled that ISPs are common carriers, partly because it's afraid of the power of the lobbyists to influence Congress and partly because its directors lack spine. And now that lack of spine is about to bite the butt of everyone who uses the Web.

According to people who follow this stuff closely, because ISPs are not common carriers the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., are looking askance at the FCC's defense against Verizon's lawsuit, although a verdict isn't likely for months.

Here are the stakes: "If Verizon -- or any ISP -- can go to a website and demand extra money just to reach Verizon subscribers, the fundamental fairness of competing on the Internet would be disrupted. It would immediately make Verizon the gatekeeper to what would and would not succeed online. ISPs -- not users, not the market -- would decide which websites and services succeed," writes Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, a digital advocacy group.

A taste of the Web's future: The Time Warner vs. CBS dustup
You don't have to wait for the Verizon verdict to get a taste of what the New Web Order would be like. Time Warner Cable and CBS just had a dustup over how much Time Warner would pay CBS to carry its programming. When the pair couldn't agree, the cable giant stopped carrying CBS programming in New York City, Los Angeles, and Dallas. CBS then retaliated by stopping Time Warner subscribers from streaming its programming over the Internet.

They settled after about a month. Staying true to form, Time Warner refused to give customers a rebate as compensation for lost programming.

That's not exactly the same issue that we're facing in the fight over Net neutrality, but it should give you a sense of what life is like when the giants fight it out over what you're allowed to access and for how much. Users get caught in the middle, and the rights we've taken for granted simply disappear.

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This article, "Verizon's diabolical plan to turn the Web into pay-per-view," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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