Get ready for metered bandwidth

Not since the early days of dial-up Internet have we had to worry about how much we use our Internet access, but today Internet service providers are searching for a way to make the folks who use the most bandwidth either pay up or get out!

As I wrote on InternetEvolution recently, it’s time we start treating the Internet like every other utility.

Using the utility model, an ISP could charge for the maximum bit rate available (many already offer several maximum bit rates at graduated prices), then a reasonable price for each gigabyte used. To simplify the user experience and reduce concern about overages, it makes sense to include a generous amount of leeway with the service — say, 200 Gbytes — but it will be essential to give the user a way to monitor how it’s consumed.

Ideally, enough bandwidth and storage would be included with the basic plan to more than satisfy the typical user, including allowance for downloading a reasonable amount of video and audio. (For reference, movies available on iTunes tend to run just a bit over 1 Gbyte.) With packages in the hundreds of Gbytes, the average user’s Internet experience and usage pattern is unlikely to be affected at all. But customers should not hesitate to stay up to date on their system updates and virus software.

Check out the full article and feel free to comment on Internet Evolution or here and let me know what you think!

Update: As Gary points out in a comment below, this is a very USA-centric view. I know internet rates and billing policies vary quite a bit around the world. Please leave a comment if your area already has bandwidth restrictions and let us know how it’s working out!

8 thoughts on “Get ready for metered bandwidth”

  1. “have we had to worry about how much we use our Internet access”
    “We” presumably refers to Americans. Down in Australia, any internet plan has a quota beyond which download speed is limited or per Mb charges are incurred.
    Typical ‘domestic’ quotas range from 5Gb to 50Gb. There’s a couple of places you can get 200Gb from (eg TPG offers a 60Gb peak + 140 Gb Off peak for AUS$80 a month – about US$100)

  2. You’re right Gary, this is a very USA centered article. It’s interesting that plans there vary so much! I’m also surprised to see a difference between peak and off peak usage. Do you know what hours are considered peak?

    Thanks for the great info!

  3. Peak depends on provider. TPG’s offpeak is just between 4am to 9am local time, so it is really only useful for scheduled downloads/copies (or gamers who wake up REALLY early).
    Most providers do some non-quota stuff. Maybe some peer to peer or their own software repository (eg linux packages).
    Some providers (eg Teltra’s BigPond) join their Internet and Media sides so you can buy the movies off them and the download is outside quota. They have the movies on their servers so aren’t paying any other parties. It is the interconnect/international capacity that is bottleneck for Australia.
    I guess a lot of the difference in domestic plans comes between people who download movies/TV programs etc and those who don’t. I don’t and I’ve never come near downloading 5GB in a month. If the situation is similar in the US, the 250GB limits may be the start of a downward trend.
    If the company has say, 90% of customers using less than 5GB a month, 9% using 50GB and 1% using 250GB +. Now 50% of the customers want to up usage to 50GB a month, that excess bandwidth has to come off that 1% of top users. Those ratios are only a wild guess, but those days of ‘unlimited bandwidth’ were in practice limited by the amount of data people wanted to download. If usage has now grown to match capacity (ie the limits are a physical necessity not a pre-emptive move), then real and practical limits are going to come in, and they’ll really hit the early adopters who have got used to having the park to themselves.

  4. I’m highly opposed to metered bandwidth. There are a few things that concern me:

    I think it stifles innovation – consider how much slower the internet would have evolved if we were all still on dial up for fear of paying overage charges

    It gives cable companies an opportunity for non-competitive practices – for instance, cable company’s main revenue is TV, but they are also many people’s internet providers. Do they want to allow cheap access to broadcast alternatives via services like Hulu or Joost? or even Amazon TV downloads, Netflix rentals, iTunes move purchases,etc. All this cuts into the bottom line.

    System patches and updates become highly complicated – microsoft, apple, etc start pushing out inefficient updates, but we the consumers have no control over it, yet are required to do it to remain safe.

    IPTV and VOIP become less enticing, or need to be somehow excluded if provided by the provider in some sort of “all-in-one” service.

    How does this effect unsolicited email? Like unsolicited cell calls would I suddenly have the ability to sue someone for sending me big files to my email account repeatedly and therefore driving up my bill?

    Frankly I think the internet is a fairly chaotic place. As long as the internet provider is keeping up the network in a reasonable way, they can charge you for the max speed (as they due now) and not stifle and confuse the market.

    To me, metered internet is the first step to subvert net neutrality.

  5. Not too surprising really, and I don’t think that those who use a high amount of bandwidth are to blame either. These corporations are nothing but money hungry monsters, and they’ll do what they can to squeeze every penny possible out of you!

  6. There’s a good primer on the concept of Net Neutraility here.

    It was unmetered access that powered AOL from an also-ran to a one-time dominant access provider. I remember the difficulty in connecting to them after they stopped charging by the minute, until they added more access numbers. But it’s clear that people want an unmetered model. Always having to look at their usage stats to see if they’re going to get charged overages will have a chilling effect on innovation.

    But I’m realistic enough to know that innovation follows the money. And the money right now wants Quality of Service (QoS) tiering so VOIP and other synchronous services won’t be interrupted by your game of Doom or your hunt for mulled cider.

    So I’m afraid it’s inevitable. The Internet’s very success will be its downfall.

  7. You don’t give a reason why we need metered bandwidth.

    Why is metered bandwidth important now when it was never important before? Sure the numbers are bigger, but the comparative amount of traffic you can use is much, much less. Why?

  8. I depend on the internet for part of my income and without that income, will end up living in my car. I’ve been unable to find any other way to survive. I squeak by and there is nothing left to pay for “bandwidth”. If your notions become reality, I will be living in my car. Who the hell are you, anyway?

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