Internet Access: Flat Fee vs. Pay-Per-Use

Topics: Internet, Credit card, Cable television Pages: 6 (1760 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Internet Access: Flat Fee vs. Pay-Per-Use

Most Internet users are either not charged to access information, or pay a low-cost flat fee. The Information SuperHighway, on the other hand, will likely be based upon a pay-per-use model. On a gross level, one might say that the payment model for the Internet is closer to that of broadcast (or perhaps cable) television while the model for the Information SuperHighway is likely to be more like that of pay-per-view T.V.

"Pay-per-use" environments affect user access habits. "Flat fee" situations encourage exploration. Users in flat-fee environments navigate through webs of information and tend to make serendipitous discoveries. "Pay- per-use" situations give the public the incentive to focus their attention on what they know they already want, or to look for well-known items previously recommended by others. In "pay-per-use" environments, people tend to follow more traditional paths of discovery, and seldom explore totally unexpected avenues. "Pay-per-use" environments discourage browsing. Imagine how a person's reading habits would change if they had to pay for each article they looked at in a magazine or newspaper.

Yet many of the most interesting things we learn about or find come from following unknown routes, bumping into things we weren't looking for. (Indeed, Thomas Kuhn makes the claim that, even in the hard sciences, real breakthroughs and interesting discoveries only come from following these unconventional routes [Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962]).

And people who have to pay each time they use a piece of information are likely to increasingly rely upon specialists and experts. For example, in a situation where the reader will have to pay to read each paragraph of background on Bosnia, s/he is more likely to rely upon State Department summaries instead of paying to become more generally informed him/herself. And in the 1970s and 1980s the library world learned that the introduction of expensive pay-per-use databases discouraged individual exploration and introduced the need for intermediaries who specialized in searching techniques.

Producers vs. Consumers

On the Internet anyone can be an information provider or an information consumer. On the Information SuperHighway most people will be relegated to the role of information consumer.

Because services like "movies-on-demand" will drive the technological development of the Information SuperHighway, movies' need for high bandwidth into the home and only narrow bandwidth coming back out will likely dominate. (see Besser, Howard. "Movies on Demand May Significantly Change the Internet", Bulletin of the American Association for Information Science, October 1994) Metaphorically, this will be like a ten-lane highway coming into the home and only a tiny path leading back out (just wide enough to take a credit card number or to answer multiple-choice questions).

This kind of asymmetrical design implies that only a limited number of sites will have the capability of outputting large volumes of bandwidth onto the Information SuperHighway. If such a configuration becomes prevalent, this is likely to have several far-reaching results. It will inevitably lead to some form of gatekeeping. Managers of those sites will control all high-volume material that can be accessed. And for reasons of scarcity, politics, taste, or personal/corporate preference, they will make decisions on a regular basis as to what material will be made accessible and what will not. This kind of model resembles broadcast or cable television much more so than it does today's Internet.

The scarcity of outbound bandwidth will discourage individuals and small groups from becoming information producers, and will further solidify their role as information consumers. "Interactivity" will be defined as responding to multiple-choice questions and entering credit card numbers...
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