YOU - Person of This Year, But Next Year's Toast?

Alas, the incredible euphoria of Time Magazine picking You and Me as their Person(s) of the Year for 2006 can't last forever. No more all night parties. No more dancing in the virtual streets. Time to sober up and realize how all this wonderful - and less wonderful - user created content celebrated by Time almost didn't happen; how fragile our ability to post our content on the Internet really is; and, how the telephone and cable companies that monopolize broadband Internet access want 2007 to be the year not of Us, but of Them.

The entire phenomenon of a huge audience reaching home brewed content created by Us relies upon consumers having the right - and opportunity -- to choose what websites they visit. Today, we have that, and it's called "Net Neutrality." But the handful of telephone and cable companies that control the market for broadband Internet access - over 98 percent market share for cable and DSL! -- have spent hundreds of millions of dollars this year to persuade Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they should be able to control what content streams over their "pipes" and what websites their captive customers can visit.

The companies' plan is to force content producers to pay extra fees and tolls for so-called "priority" service, while relegating those who don't pay to the Digital Dirt Road. Who will pay those fees and tolls? Those who can afford to - the already fat, established, and constipated Big Media and Old Media -- at the expense of the creative, hustling, innovative, and entrepreneurial. Had this Pay to Play on the Net System been permitted a few years ago, Google would still be in a garage. Rocketboom would be Rocketbust. YouTube? Try TheirTube.

Time's Person of the Year - those of us who rely on an open Internet to create and distribute our content - would be stillborn.

And, of course, one delicious irony in all this is that Time Magazine's parent company owns Time Warner Cable, one of the key opponents of Net Neutrality, confirming the adage that bedfellows make strange politics.

Fortunately, after a huge grassroots uprising, Congress failed to pass legislation full of Big Wet Kisses for the cable and telephone companies, including a thorough gutting of Net Neutrality. Meanwhile, at the FCC, Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have taken a strong stand for Net Neutrality conditions on the anti-competitive AT&T/BellSouth merger. Likely Copps and Adelstein will get coal in their stockings from AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre, who has threatened: "How do you think they're (websites like Google) going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that... For a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!"

Today, there's news that most of the TV networks want to jointly form an online video site to compete with YouTube and Google Video. These lumbering leviathans are just now "getting" that online video is not a fad, and that it's time to put the genie that threatens their business models back into the bottle. Which is telling testimony as to why we need Net Neutrality - it provides a level playing field that allows the creative, nimble, and entrepreneurial an equal opportunity to create innovative content and applications on the Net.

In essence, what Time is celebrating is that We the People of the Year are running rings around Old Media. But that wouldn't have been possible in a world without Net Neutrality. Big, Old Media would have its video online, it would be paying the extra fees to the monopoly broadband providers to drive their captive consumers to their sites, and We the People of the Year would be relegated to the Digital Dirt Road where consumers might never find us. Or, if they did find us, the user experience would be degraded, so that it couldn't compete against the Big, Old Media priority service experience. That user-created content phenomenon celebrated by Time would likely never have happened. And this year's Person of the Year would be ?????????

Time Magazine made You Person of the Year. All of us should now redouble our efforts to protect Net Neutrality, so that in 2007, Time's parent, Time Warner, and its fellow broadband monopolists, won't make You toast.