By Scott Brown
June 29, 2006 at 07:14 PM EDT

Did anybody feel a disturbance in the Force yesterday? Nope, I didn’t either. But Neo was spinning in his cybergrave: The ‘Net went corporate on Wednesday, with the blessing of the U.S. Congress.

Yes, you can still surf anywhere you want on the Internet. But depending on what you’re looking for, it may take forever to load. See, there’s this bill sponsored by the telecommunications industry (uh-oh) intended to remunerate carriers for their support of the Internet. It all comes down to that wonderfully vague and innocuous term “‘Net neutrality”: Right now, everyone’s site is carried with equal speed and service, whether it’s Google.com or Ihaveapetferret.net. But the telco companies want high-dollar outfits (like Google) to pay for better service. That means Ihaveapetferret.net (and any other small site without Google million$ at its fingertips) likely won’t have the cash to pay up — and will get ghettoized by the carriers. Meaning… unless your blog is a blockbuster, no one’s going to read it. It’ll simply take too long to load.

Ouch. There’s goes cyber-democracy. I’ll still be around, flapping my corporate lips, of course. But my links won’t be quite so colorful. Hey, good thing YouTube’s hooking up with NBC and MySpace got in bed with Rupert Murdoch, right? Otherwise, all weirdness would be stamped out of the Web. But imagine if this trend continues: The extra costs of paying up to the carriers will be passed on to the consumer, I’d imagine. That could mean that, someday, only high-traffic YouTube bigshots (like, say, NBC) will be able to afford an upload surcharge; only the best-read MySpace pages would be allowed to stay up, or get delivered with anything approaching efficiency.

Remember dial-up, poor people? Hope so. Because that’s your speed limit now.

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