We still live in a class society. There’s first class and standard class rail travel. Gold credit cards and the other kind. Refined culture and grace under fire, personified by Shilpa Shetty, contrasted with. . . Jade Goody.
However, until now the internet has been largely immune to class division. It empowers the consumer, removes geographical barriers, and democratises business.
Alas, all that is possibly about to change.
The internet is poised to sell out to the forces of capitalism who not only control the means of production but soon the means of distribution. In other words, the kind of internet service you might have access to.
There’ll be one internet for those who choose a sophisticated, media rich virtual world - let’s call it "Shilpa".
There’ll be another internet for the information poor and unashamedly basic offer – "Jade" for the purposes of this article.
It will cost you more to interact with Shilpa than it will to look at Jade. But you knew that.
Why is this likely to happen? It’s all our own fault if truth be told. In the last couple of years websites like YouTube have developed and we’re all wanting to view bandwidth hungry content like movies online.
It’s made the internet much more dynamic and a far better user experience. However, it’s using up the space Internet Service Providers have available to deliver their service.
Which means they are thinking about a bit of social engineering – and not the Big Brother kind. They’ll charge one subscription for a simple internet service, and another for the one we’ve come to love. In this way they believe the market will self select. Jade followers in one room of the house. Shilpa fans in the other.
There is, of course, the socially divisive aspect to the possible move in that some may be condemned to live with Jade because the alternative’s just too expensive.
There are worse things in life. Though not many.
The ISP’s clearly feel there is still a future for the simple ‘what you see is what you get’ manifestation of the internet. Otherwise the idea of making available more space by charging premium rates for a beautiful virtual world is flawed because we’ll all in fact want perfection.
So, if you want to watch Big Brother on your laptop or PC in the years ahead you’re going to have to pay a little more.
The question is, which class of internet will people demand?
Well if the public vote for the Channel 4 reality show is anything to go by, when confronted with a choice we reject things with little to offer, and select the superior option.
So. Shilpa wins again.
Andrew Sparrow is founder and principal lawyer with Lecote Solicitors, the new media, internet and IT law firm. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.