The Gray Lady – Walled Garden for Me, None for Thee, Network Provider

by Mike Wendy on March 18, 2011

The Gray Lady announced yesterday that there’ll be no more free news from her.  According to newspaper:

The New York Times introduced a plan on Thursday to begin charging the most frequent users of its Web site $15 for a four-week subscription in a bet that readers will pay for news they are accustomed to getting free.

Beginning March 28, visitors to NYTimes.com will be able to read 20 articles a month without paying, a limit that company executives said was intended to draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.

I applaud this move.  They should reap the value of their paper to its fullest extent.  And, if that includes shutting down its free web offering, so be it.  They spend a lot of money, in uncertain times journalistically, and if that’s what they feel it takes to realize a return on that substantial investment, go for it.

But, there’s also a measure of hypocrisy, too.  What they’re doing is creating a walled garden.  If you want in, you gotta’ pay.  Or, stated more bluntly, through the move they’re saying – “Hey, it’s our private property, and we – not anyone else – can choose to control it as we see fit.”

Yet, for Internet providers – the companies that bring the Internet into your house and business – a similar understanding seems lacking. That’s private property, too.  Though, you wouldn’t know it from the New York Times and others on the anti-private property Left.

You see, the Times – a stalwart defender of the FCC’s new confiscatory Net Neutrality regulations – believes the owners of networks have lesser rights.  Essentially, the provision of Internet access is just too important to leave in the hands of companies to decide.  Consequently, in their view the FCC is more than justified in stripping those companies – and them only – of their ability to decide who can access and speak on their facilities, as well as how to monetize their substantial investment.

While the Times remains free to demand non-discriminatory access to the private property of network providers (which is essentially a massive public subsidy for content providers), the poor network providers get saddled with numerous, flexible, and, ever-expanding mandates that conscript their private property to public service.

Imagine if the FCC, or any governmental body for that matter, tried that with the Gray Lady’s private property (for an idea, check out Tornillo v. Miami Herald)?

Says the times about the FCC’s “legally vulnerable” Net Neutrality regulations:

The choice for American consumers is between the open broadband they have come to expect — in which they can view any content from sources big and small — and a walled garden somewhat like cable TV, where providers can decide what we can see, and at what price.

Well, that’s not actually the choice.  Rather, the choice is: Do we allow the FCC to subsidize content providers and their walled gardens at the expense of network providers and their growth, which we know America both needs and demands?

Before the FCC’s regulations, that growth was robust.  Yet, what sane network provider would now go into a new market and try to compete, knowing that it’s subject to the FCC’s malleable and confiscatory regulations?  Only insane ones.  And, that’s not a plan for growth.

Let’s let the marketplace figure out where walled gardens can and can’t exist.  Unelected bureaucrats, trafficking in legally dubious, politically elastic regulations do not fit that bill.

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