The free road of the Internet is turning into one paved with gold for the tech industry.

It had to happen. The free road of the Internet is turning into one paved with gold for the tech industry.

In the olden days, we got a lot of programs for free, especially anti-virus utilities. That’s coming to a halt. Free anti-virus programs such as Avira are going to a pay-by-month scheme for their full-featured product. A few will still give you the program but may demand an unending fee to update the daily virus signatures.

An Avira ad popped up on my screen -- $1.97 to upgrade. When I got to the order page, I realized that was per month, for the rest of my life.

This brings the concept of software rental into play: Charge a monthly fee instead of an outright purchase. A number of business-program makers are turning to this.

Pay-by-month is irresistible to software companies. Over time, it vastly increases cash extracted from us and creates a steady revenue stream. The day seems to be coming when all software is marketed this way. Yikes.

Internet access over cellphones is setting a new standard. Plans are charging by the amount of data you receive, not by time or the month.

When the Net began and bandwidth was scarce, some access providers tried this. Consumers responded that the beauty of the Net is surfing around looking for interesting stuff. If you know the meter’s running, that fun disappears.

Early providers tried metered service but flopped. AOL when it first started was like his. It was a mess.

In all of the above cases, the schemes would fail if a company tried it on its own. That’s because they are user unfriendly. We always will prefer the old system that did not turn our computers into a recurring expense.

Customer demand may have no say this time around. If all of industry does the same thing, it will be pay up or turn into a hermit.

Contact Jim Hillibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.