The iPhone has conquered humanity — or at least that part of it willing to shell out $500 a pop — and as we all know, it only works with AT&T’s cellular service. That’s a problem for Ben Scott, writing at The Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog:

The only solution to this problem is a political one. Decisions that legislators and regulators in Washington make now will determine what the internet looks like in the future. The US Congress is holding a hearing this week — call it the iPhone hearing — to discuss the new technology and its impact on consumer choice…

Our elected leaders will decide if there will be maximum consumer choice between networks, devices and services. Will consumers have free rein on the internet, or will they be guided into “walled gardens” of “preferred content”? And — if the disappearing democratic ideals of cyberspace don’t get you worked up — will you be able to buy the iPhone this year without paying hundreds of dollars in penalty fees and handcuffing yourself to a long-term contract?

The idea of regulation doesn’t sit well with Tim Worstall, the popular British blogger. “Actually, I think this is something we can safely leave to markets to work out for themselves,” he writes on his blog. “As AOL tried to create a walled garden and failed, in the medium term those mobile companies which try to do so will …. Perhaps the best way of looking at these hearings is the cynical one: a chance for a few Congressmen to shake down a few more companies for campaign contributions.”

Speaking of consumer choice, Jacob Sullum at Reason’s Hit & Run blog has found a new twist on the V-Chip:

Here’s an interesting alternative to yanking soda, potato chips, and candy from vending machines in schools: A company called Vend Sentinel offers a system that allows parents to pay for their children’s beverages and snacks in advance and decide which items they’re allowed to buy, using a swipe card and PIN number. I imagine this arrangement might lead to a gray market in vending machine cards, as kids with stricter parents pay kids with more permissive ones for the privilege of buying a Coke or a Snickers bar. Still, it puts the responsibility for controlling what kids eat where it belongs, while providing a diversity of options to reflect a diversity of parental preferences.