What is the best way to implement a penny per page? There are three possibilities:
- Web sites manage it individually.
- The ISPs manage it.
- The Internet community manages it.
The first possibility has been tried in myriad forms, and it does not work. When a Web site tries to unilaterally charge for its content, the audience almost always rejects it because everything else is free. Web sites will have to act in unison for a penny per page to work.
Having the ISPs handle billing would probably be the easiest approach if the ISPs can create a common, fair and uniform model for all customers.
The traditional way to get anything done on the Internet is for the Internet community, in the form of existing standards organizations, to create a standard which is then implemented on a non-profit basis. Alternatively, the top 1,000 or so Web sites, working in unison, could do it. Here's how it could be done:
- The top 1,000 Web sites agree that everyone will switch over to a penny per page on a specific date under a unified system. The sites need to work together. If some sites switch and others don't, you will get the same problem that happens now when a site decides to unilaterally charge for its content. If there is not a uniform and super-simple billing model (so that users get one simple, easy-to-understand bill), the thing just won't work.
- The community charters a new, non-profit corporation that will handle the flow of cash from the audience to the Web sites. This is the same sort of corporate model that today allows users to register domain names at a standard price. That corporation will be able to charge a handling fee on the penny that each page receives. That handling fee should be capped at something like five percent.
- The non-profit corporation is open to every Web site, so that any site can sign up and get its money. The whole process needs to be incredibly simple -- something like the process that lets money flow to sellers at Ebay or Half.com.
- Either that corporation handles billing, or billing flows through the customer's ISP, with the ISPs keeping a small handling fee to handle their costs.
The key, and the reason for a separate, non-profit company in the middle, is to keep the process pristinely fair and unbiased. What makes the Web so strong now is the fact that it is a comletely level playing field. Anyone who can work a computer can get a domain name and start a Web site -- there's no social hierarchy on the Web. One of the main things that creates popular sites is resonance. In keeping with the populist sense of the Web, everyone with a Web site should have equal access to the penny per page payment system.
An unbiased system like this with no middlemen would have huge benefits in terms of innovation.
Implementing Flat-rate Pricing
Flat-rate pricing (for example, charging users a flat rate of $10 per month to access Web content -- see this page for a description) would be even easier to implement. Here are two options:
- ISPs collect the fee -- Three or four large ISPs could begin to collect the $10 fee from their users each month. They would distribute the money to Web sites based on traffic. Web sites wishing to receive the money would block access to all users who are not entering the sites via those ISPs. Other ISPs would have an incentive to collect the $10 fee because most of the Web would "black out" to their users once the fee was put into place.
- Web sites implement it -- The top 1,000 Web sites would decide to begin collecting the $10 fee through a separate company, as desribed above. The separate company would track traffic and send money to the Web sites based on traffic. Any user not paying the $10 fee would be blocked from all of the sites in the consortium. Other Web sites could enroll to begin receiving money as well.