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Internet is not “free”

When Pandora.com asked me for $0.99 to continue to use their service, I immediately tried Grooveshark.com and last.fm. Prior to that, I had no interest in finding out what my options were for music over the Internet. Pandora was enough for me. I now use Grooveshark when I want to listen to something specific (album or series, or just individual artist or song). I don’t use last.fm because the interface doesn’t work for me. I still use Pandora (for free)  and it hasn’t asked me for any money since because I’m not spending as much time on it any more.

Am I so cheap that I would not pony up $0.99 for a service I obviously use and enjoy?   Nope.

The Internet is not free. I am not freeloading.

Pandora didn’t just ask me for $0.99. Had Mr. Pandora stopped by my table at Tully’s Coffee House and asked me for a dollar, I would have thrown him a fiver and thanked him for his music service.

Instead, Pandora asked me to allow a credit card company to  start charging me a recurring fee, with a few pages of fine print somewhere granting them rights and privileges, just to continue what I’ve already been doing without granting such privileges. To that, I balk.

Dealing with credit card companies is not simple nor free. In this case, for a $0.99 transaction, I don’t trust the credit card companies. Access to my permissions is worth more than that, and  everyone knows it. The request for $0.99 simply reminds me that a few industries are anxiously monetizing everything they can about my use of their service and anything else they can access via those fine print permissions and waivers.

Of course it’s not Pandora… it’s the system of industries controlling the flow of revenues. And the Internet. Pity poor Pandora, right?

I have many ways to listen to Bob Dylan with or without the Internet. As long as it is dumb simple convenient for me to listen via Pandora, it will have my attention. I’m sure a very small fraction of the user base spends serious time in the features that are unique to Pandora. Oh sure it’s potentially cool and amazing and revolutionary, but the best music I listen to is still handed to me on CD even today, or emailed to me by friends. As always, that control of choice is hard at work limiting my choices. Some things never change.

The request for $.99 reminded me I pay several hundred dollars per month to Internet service providers for this “free” Internet. Each agreement comes with terms and waivers and access permissions, in fine print.  Each is taxed, and not just with percentage-based taxes. Most now include fees and special taxes, many of them poorly described if at all. Who’s getting the money? Does anyone really know?

I pay for my cell phone, and then an additional $100 per month for that cell phone to access the Internet. I  pay for cable Internet and DSL, from two companies, and I pay for global wimax access through yet another company. I pay a tethering fee on another cell phone, to access and share the Internet wirelessly.  Everyone of these “deals” includes multiple pages of fine print waivers and terms, which most people don’t read and probably can’t comprehend anyway. Those of us who do read them often find them obsolete and/or full of odd terms that really shouldn’t be in there (but are probably there for very specific, likely abusive reasons).

When I travel I am asked to pay exhorbitant prices for a day or two of wifi access at each location. The service provided by hotels is usually of terrible quality and sans even basic security. Consumers who wisely choose to use VPNs and private “hot spot security tunnels” get blocked by nameless, faceless, voiceless IT administrators whose attitude is clearly “use the network our way or don’t use it”.As we all wisely opted out of the hotel wifi (to use wimax or other cell-based options), the hotels moved the $15 or $20 per day fee into a no-longer optional  “facilities fee” or “resort fee”. How nice.

The Internet is not free. It is actually quite expensive. If your service needs to get a piece of that pie, you need to chase the deep pockets, not ask me for $0.99. The way I see it, you all already are taking way too much, delivering too little, and hiding alot of potential risk in fine print you feel free to change in your favor, at any time.

One of these days the people will overthrow the establishment and some rules will change. That’s for certain. In the mean time, I’ll keep taking as much value as I can out of the free innovations, while the establishment robs me through the back door terms and conditions via my credit cards. From my perch I’m still paying too much for what I get, and I can’t really afford to care if Pandora or any other player in the game is getting his slice of the pie. That’s not my problem, Pandora, it’s yours. Innovate or die, like the rest of us.

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