There was a lengthy discussion on this week’s TWiT about bandwidth metering; the topic was discussed on the Daily Source Code for a few episodes a while back too.  Although Dvorak is often excessively inflammatory and I don’t always agree with what he says, this was a case where he was clearly right and everyone else (well, Leo really did all the talking) is wrong.

The biggest problem is that Leo is confusing two separate issues:

  1. how much you pay for your Internet access, and
  2. do you pay based on how much you use.

These are not the same thing!  Does Leo really think that unlimited Internet usage will stay the same price forever?  If the ISPs want to make more money, they just all put their prices up – they don’t need to muck about with changing how they charge people (which is much more work on their end).

I agree with Dvorak‘s 8 reasons – but it really just comes down to #3 and #4.  I should pay more than my parents do, because I’m using more.

The comparison to water is nice, but very flawed in that there isn’t a lot more that you can do with water.  If I had “all you can drink” water for a single price, would I use more?  Well, maybe a little – I guess people might have baths more than showers, and maybe pool usage would increase.  People might waste less, although I doubt people that avoid wasting water now are really doing it to save a few dollars.  Compare that to unlimited Internet access – there’s really no limit in sight as software gets larger, services move to the ‘cloud’, and audio and especially video online takes over from offline sources.

In the modern economy, are there any resources that are provided (other than those that nature provides) that are not metered?  Over-the-air radio and TV aren’t, but there’s no consumption, either – no matter how many TVs I have receiving an over-the-air signal, the ability of my neighbour to receive the same signal is not effected.  In NZ, local phone calls are unlimited, but that’s enforced for by the government, and from what I understand there’s little effect on my neighbour if I use the phone more (and again, there just isn’t room for much more use – there’s a strict 1440 minute limit per day per phone).

Electricity would perhaps be a better example – there’s an unlimited supply, and much closer to unlimited demand.  (The unlimited supply comes from a willingness to spend money on nuclear/solar/hydro/wind/etc generators, but unlimited Internet access supply comes from spending money on fibre/cables/satellites/etc too).  Is anyone arguing that electricity should be ‘all you can eat’?

Actually, my bandwidth is metered (from TelstraClear) – I’m not sure if there are any other ISPs in New Zealand that offer this.  I pay a base rate (covering overheads) and then a fixed price per 10GB.  There’s no limit to how many GB I can use, but I pay for each.  There are problems here:

  1. it’s not granular enough – it should be 1GB (you can meter in 1GB blocks, but the per-GB price is higher), and
  2. the price is really too high compared to elsewhere in the world.

If those problems were fixed, however, I would still have no problem with metered pricing.

Leo tried to argue that there’s no cost to bits.  While Dvorak argued this, I don’t think it came across just how wrong Leo is.  It doesn’t matter how much peering goes on, somebody eventually has to pay for creating and maintaining the ‘pipes’ that the bits are moved through.  Those pipes have a fixed capacity, which means that there’s limited supply.  If there’s limited supply and limited demand, then the only fair solution is to charge based on the amount that is used.

I’m sure that the a chunk of the motivation on the ISP’s part is to be able to make more money – but they are aiming to make more money by being more fair.  My argument is that the prices are going to rise anyway, so wouldn’t it be better to have things fair now?

Leo is concerned about the viability of services like TWiT Live and Revision3, since if people are paying for bandwidth they will be less likely to use it on Internet video (when over-the-air TV is still free).  I don’t see that as an argument against metered bandwidth, though, but as an argument for lower pricing.  Are people reluctant to turn on the tap to get a drink because that will increase their water bill?  When do you ever hear “Sorry, honey, we can’t watch Lost tonight because the TV will use up extra electricity”?  That’s because the per-unit cost of water and electricity is low enough that people don’t care about using a bit more.

Note that you do get people reducing waste water/electricity.  If you’re not using a tap, you turn it off.  Electronic devices have power-saving features (some people even turn their microwaves off when they aren’t using them, and so on).  But that would be good for the Internet!  What possible benefit is there from me leaving TWiT Live streaming on my computer when I’m not even there?  Does Leo really want to pay (or have sponsors pay) the bandwidth for that sort of wastage?  (This is Dvorak’s reason #8, which seems dubious until you think it through).

What Leo (et al) are arguing is that everyone (or perhaps everyone outside of business) should pay the same price for Internet access, no matter how much they use.  I simply can’t agree with that.


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