LOS ANGELES — Wayne Bauer, an independent filmmaker who lives in Santa Clarita, Calif., uses a free Internet service called Skype to play online Scrabble with a buddy in Texas. They do this with no long-distance charges. But if the cable company that pipes the Internet to Bauer's house gets its way, that could change soon.
"It's about having a virtual, electronic toll booth to constantly charge you extra for things we get today for a fair and flat rate," says Jeff Chester with the Center for Digital Democracy.
Consumers like Bauer who make long-distance phone calls on the Internet, those who pay to download tunes or TV shows onto their iPods and people who now watch streaming video free of charge — all might get hit with extra fees.
A group of telecommunications companies is mulling ways of charging customers for moving certain kinds of content over the Internet.
It's all being discussed at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a think tank funded by the telephone, cable and media industries. This network's parent, NBC Universal, is a member.
"I don't think this is corporate greed," says Adam Thierer with the Progress and Freedom Foundation. "This is the beginning of a new business model for the Internet."
Last month, when AOL and Yahoo! announced plans to charge extra for handling certain kinds of bulk e-mail, it provoked a flood of nasty messages. Now, groups ranging from MoveOn.org on the left to the Gun Owners of America on the right have joined forces to fight what they call an assault on fundamental freedoms.
"This is very much a freedom of speech and freedom of information issue," says Larry Pratt with the Gun Owners of America.
As Bauer and his friend Al were playing Scrabble recently, they came up with a word they think describes these proposed new fees: B-A-D.
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