Is Telecom the new Big Oil?

by mcastellon on March 4, 2006

Every addiction has behind it a network of people waiting to profit from it.

Few people will deny the grip that big oil has on America is crippling our societies. Decades of dependency have fueled a system that has enslaved us to the manufacturers of petroleum. In the year where Exxon posted its largest ever annual profit, the Western world nervously watched to see if gas prices might hit $3 a gallon.

It hasn’t always been like this. But when the automobile revolutionized the way we traveled long distances our dependency was born. Almost a century later, now that automobiles have become our motorized wheelchairs for a trip across the street to the store, it’s no wonder that users of that technology are at the mercy of Big Oil corporations, whose heads have developed an image of little more than fat cat crack peddlers. Oil has become an addiction so strong its keepers can start wars of near-global proportion by a simple change in policy.

And in the past 10 years we’ve been presented with a new technology that has had as big of an impact as the invention of the automobile has. The internet and our growing addictions to the content it delivers are increasing exponentially every year: movies, music, VoIP. The list of deliverables will continue to grow into the horizon.

And the controllers of this technology, the ones who mainline it into our homes, have over the past 10 years started to realize that they too can have the same power as Big Oil. Our addictions are similar, and so can the control over it be.

Internet providers like AT&T and BellSouth have recently said they want to see high-volume Web services (Google, Skype, Yahoo!, etc) pay a premium for their current position on the Web. Any company that doesn’t pay the premium will have their traffic slow exponentially. Such a system, critics argue, will drastically reduce the open nature of the Web by squashing smaller Web services. The biggie sites would likely have to pass costs off onto users.

Imagine paying for each Google search? Or subscribing to the front page of CNN or Yahoo?

If the open nature of the Internet was controlled with the same big-business gusto and squandering of corporate ethics that Big Oil has engaged in, I think we can all expect a massive shift in the digital landscape that we know today.




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