If there was a real good reason such as Quality of Service, then it would be quite understandable.
The main thing Microsoft's system has over Sony's is the fact that the guide button allows you to bring up friends lists whenever you like, see what your pals are playing, and chat with them no matter what they're doing, and all of this can be accomplshed without exiting whichever app you are running. (I wont even go into the ability to access custom soundtracks no matter what you're doing, or the fact that you can stream your music from your computer's sizable hard drive without copying over a single megabyte to your console.)
Furthermore, there are 3 levels of screening out obnoxious people: The Zone system, the Feedback system, and the Reputation system. Thanks to these marvelous features, I play with a greater percentage of like-minded players than any online service I have ever used, and I come from the PC gaming world which was in fact free, but inferior to Live in all other respects.
The service is of a higher quality. You would know this if you had a Live account and a 360, which I'm assuming you don't because you make ridiculous claims like "PlayStation 3's On-line is nearly identical,"which it's most certainly not, and "most of the games on Xbox Live have lag issues," which is another falshood. Have you played 'most of the games?.' I have, and aside from the occasional slowdown (typically resulting from a player with a crappy broadband connection,) there are practically no problems.
The Live vs PSN paradigm is much like the difference between honest to goodness TiVo and the PVR services offered by cable companies. Sure the cable companies offer you the ability to record shows, but for a fee TiVo adapts to your preferences and recommends shows based on an elaborate feedback system. TiVo service costs money ($13/month,) but is superior in most respects, and you never hear about disatisfied TiVo users. Just like I can tell you don't have Live... if you did, you'd have nothing but nice things to say about it. You may have had Live back in the Xbox days, and are basing these statements off of those experiences, you should know that when the 360 launched, Live got dramatically better.
Everyone wishes the things we want were free. If Sony can deliver the same service free of charge, they should, but until they do, their service has to be free because nobody in their right mind would pay money for it's limited feature set.
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