Free and open to all. It's a pretty good description of the internet as we see it today. There is an on-ramp fee, which your ISP and mobile providers charge you for accessing the web, but otherwise content is available to all, equitably.
That may not be true in the future.
First of all there is the question of advertising. Large sites which run teams of journalists, photographers and editors, shipping them across the country or even the world to research, report and assess stories need to be funded, and funded well. Adverts are what keeps these guys in business. However rulings in Germany which legitimised ad blocking software preventing these adverts from displaying in user's browsers subtly change the balance of funding for these websites.
Large scale adoption of ad blocking software prevents those sites from operating as they do today. Pre-roll or inter-page adverts requiring an action from the user to prove they have viewed the advert could be one solution. Barring ad blocked users could be another. In the last few weeks though more and more sites are starting to publish articles about subscriptions and how they are the future of funding.
I've seen several articles suggesting a 'Spotify for content' might be the way forward. Paying a monthly fee to view websites from a publisher or group of publishers, who then distribute that fee based on views, in a similar way to Spotify's play-based model. These sorts of paywalls haven't been successful in the past, however if the model is adopted widely enough then it could change the way web content is accessed.
Its a minefield to implement though. Will we see competing website bundles, with different sites allowing access to different subscription providers? Do we want a future of the internet that turns it into the Sky TV of content delivery, where access to sites you do want is bundled with others you don't?
An alternative option that's been suggested is that a surcharge is applied to ISP connection fees and the revenue from this is distributed to all content publishers. That's a further minefield, potentially raising the bar for internet access above the reach for low income families. Not to mention the complexities of distributing the funds across national borders, funding all content providers of any size and agreeing a model for distributing those funds.
Then there are the ISPs and backhaul service providers who want a bigger slice of the pie from content providers like Google and Facebook. How do their demands get factored in? Will we see another overhead being placed on the connection fee to cover those costs?
There's no denying that the ad-funded internet model isn't perfect and is open to abuse. However it also provides equitable rewards for success and limits the upfront impact on the consumer.
Nothing else proposed thus far looks remotely like a better solution. Let's hope that the action of a few (million) ad blockers don't drive us down the road to a worse place.