Those were the days

It’s a cliche, but one worth remembering: timing is everything.

Take the land rushes in the United States in the late 1800s. Thousands of people racing to claim a plot of land to start a new life. In the case of the famous rush in Oklahoma in 1889, in return for the freebie all you had

to do was use the land as a farmer would–grow corn, wheat, cows, pigs, and have children.

I’d imagine as word of these land grabs circulated the globe people looking for a better lot came running and sailing. History shows many parlayed this chance of a lifetime into, well, a life. What history doesn’t show, or at least isn’t mentioned much, are the conversations that went something like this.

“”I’d like to register for the land rush.””

“”Sorry. It finished yesterday.””

“”You mean there’s no more free land.””

“”Not an inch.””

“”What am I supposed to do?””

“”I don’t know. Get a job and buy some?””

Jump to today and that very same conversation is going on. The only difference is people aren’t griping about the lack of free land, but how nothing on the Internet is free anymore or how the prices are going up.

Up until the last year or so the Web was a giant free for all–literally. Without warning we had more gratis content and services than we could consume or knew what to do with.

Oh sure, we were raised to believe everything had a price tag. You want entertainment? Music, movies, magazines and TV all cost money. You want to get in touch with a friend in another city? Fine, but that’s going to cost you as well. But seemingly overnight this lesson was wiped from our collective memories.

Out of the blue your favourite magazines and newspapers were online. E-mail made communication cheap. All kinds of original video content was moving to a Web site near you. And the music! Music, more than you could ever afford to buy, was a click away as were streaming concerts. But then, figuratively speaking, the music died.

Just as the land grabbers before them had discovered, being a frontiersman is hard work. Once the “”new car smell”” of the Internet had faded, people and companies started asking, “”Why am I not getting paid for this?”” While a number of sites still offer some complimentary goodies, the gravy train has arrived at the station and it’s time to get off.

Microsoft, for example, is scaling back the free services on Hotmail. Starting July 17, POP mail retrieval will cost US$19.95 a year. The Canadian broadband market is also pulling into said station. Bell Canada is putting a bit cap on Sympatico users and Rogers is rumoured to be doing the same. Judging by a petition put up by the Broadband Residential Users’ Association (RBUA) customers are incensed.

As Sympatico users bemoan the fate of having to pay $0.79 per 100GB after the 5GB (about 167MB a day) cap and the lack of competition, try and remember broadband access isn’t a right. Dial up access isn’t a right. Bell and Rogers are companies trying to turn a profit and they have the right to do it anyway they see fit. Good luck trying to build a cause out of only being able to stream 22 minutes a data of near CD-quality Internet radio a day.

This holds true for pretty much anything associated with the Internet: forget how things worked the last five years. The days of free land are over and the new rules are in effect. One, if you don’t like the price of something, don’t buy it and don’t complain it’s too expensive. Two, if you exchange personal information for free stuff don’t complain when you start getting spam. Three, if a once-free service goes the pay route don’t complain, it’s the company’s prerogative.

It’s a cliche, but one worth remembering: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Shane Schick will be back on Monday.

gdowney@itbsuiness.ca

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