What's Wrong With Usage-Based Billing?

OpenMedia.ca wants to Stop The Meter On Your Internet Use. But if all kinds of bandwidth were charged at the same rate (so that the carriers couldn't favour one type of content, such as cable tv over another, such as internet) then usage based billing would be perfectly fair and would undermine the arguments usually given for "throttling". So why is this considered a problem (except for heavy users who want me to subsidize their bandwidth)?

4 Responses to “What's Wrong With Usage-Based Billing?”

  1. Lindsey Pinto Says:

    Usage-based billing discriminates against forms of information, insofar as it charges consumers more for content that requires the use of a large amount of gigabytes, such as audio and video. Those who produce art, independent news, Internet television like Netflix, etc. depend on the Internet to broadcast their work. With UBB it is made financially difficult for those creators to produce and disseminate their content, and for users to view it. In that, this is a net neutrality issue.

    More: http://saveournet.ca/content/what-does-usage-based-billing-mean-net-neutrality

  2. alan Says:

    Thanks Lindsey, but just because people want a subsidy is not a good reason to provide it.

    Certainly people should be able to buy video from independent producers for the same delivery cost as they get it from the TV networks. But perhaps for some purposes, video and audio are less efficient than text. In such cases it would be more efficient for everyone if people were encouraged to use text instead.

    To me net neutrality is about having equality of pricing *within* any given media type, not about subsidising some kinds of content at the cost of others.

    Where I think you should be making your case is to ensure that bandwidth used for internet (whatever the content) is not priced higher than that used for CableTV and other content controlled by the owners of the infrastructure. If you did that, not only would I continue to support you, but you would disarm the argument about a few heavy users overloading the system and so eliminate the case for throttling as well.

  3. Lindsey Says:

    Thank *you*, Alan.

    I'm not sure it's wise to argue that textual discourse is in every way equal to audio or video. I don't want to get totally theoretical here, but every type of media is unique and allows for forms for thought and expression that others do not. Think about the role of television in changing our understanding of war in the Vietnam era, or how political discourse has been shaped by social media -- the medium makes a difference.

    And since we're certainly not going back to an era of bulletin-board systems, usage-based billing will almost certainly discriminate against certain people (i.e. those with lower income or less initial knowledge of how the net works), thereby increasing the digital divide.

    Before you think of this as a subsidy for high-bandwidth content, listen to what the CEO of TekSavvy had to say about this: http://bit.ly/9kl5C0

    I completely agree with your idea that bandwidth costs should remain lower than television costs insofar as it would, to some degree, prevent vertically-integrated companies from prioritizing their own televisual content. But that's not the extent of this problem. By adding limits to the Internet while keeping television costs constant, those companies are discriminating against the public internet in general, and against indie ISPs and content providers that use it to deliver competing services.

    I would say that net freedom is about users having access to the online services they want or need, worrying about how much it'll cost per click.

  4. alan Says:

    Lindsey, I don't think Rocky's position is untainted by self-interest, and I'm sorry, but I don't think gamers and high volume video users should get a free ride at my expense. And I DO think we should worry about how much it'll cost per click just as much as traditional TV users should worry about how much it'll cost per hour of viewing. But as Jesse points out in the intro (and later in the interview) what the CRTC has approved is NOT true UBB. To that extent I do object to it, but to object to it AS UBB is a bad mistake. What we should want is TRUE UBB including ALL kinds of content, and to object to this ruling AS UBB is to weaken the case. It would be beter to say yes to UBB and then to point out how this ruling fails to achieve that.

    This all reminds me of the time some years ago when "progressive" people were all expected to reject the (in my mind admirable) principle of contingently repayable student loans (so that if your education didn't actually pay off - or if you decided to use it for public benefit rather than personal gain then you might not have to pay for it) just because the gov't of the time had a less than satisfactory proposal for it on the table.

    Or more recently, in BC, where the NDP was tricked into fooloshly appearing to reject the principle of a Carbon Tax because of some flaws in the particular version being promoted by the Liberals.

    It frustrates me to see the same game being played yet again with progressive voices being tricked into rejecting the principles they should be supporting just because someone else has implemented a fraudulent version of them.

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