Stop The Meter?

I’d like to hear more of what someone like Stephen Downes or Michael Geist thinks about this. (Both have reported the campaign but not really made a clear statement of their own reasons for doing so favourably.)

To me, the logic of true usage-based billing seems very reasonable, and it’s only the implementation that is problematic.

If the system was considered as a necessary public service then it might make sense to fund it by taxes on everyone including non-users as well as users. But, if that is not the case, then why should low volume users pay the same rate as others who use much more?  There is clear justification for a minimum rate to cover the basic service of maintaining a connection, but when it comes to volume of information transferred why should those that use more not pay more?

The proposed practice of ISP’s, however, is indeed reprehensible. It involves selling “unlimited” service that is not in fact unlimited and seems to follow the mobile phone service providers’ pattern of making it difficult for the user to be aware of the costs as they occur, rather than in a nasty surprise when they receive their bills. Having had experience of that through my children, I am now happily on a “pay-as-you-go” plan for my own phone, but the exorbitant per-minute rates are only affordable because of my very low usage. The price structure is clearly intended to force most users onto a “plan” where they pay for a certain amount of usage regardless of whether they use it and are then billed after the fact for excess usage. (Not to mention the fact that they seem intent on making it as difficult as possible to compare prices, keep changing their rates, and lie about what will be included – all with the tacit approval of the CRTC – but that’s another story.)

I would happily support a campaign for transparency and fairness in bandwidth rates, but find the effort to reject usage-based rates of any kind to be against the interests of people like me. It appears to be led by and support the interests of only very high bandwidth users like gamers and video addicts, and will have the overall economic effect of removing any incentive to use the resource responsibly by being selective and efficient rather than clogging it up so that it slows down for everyone.

One analogy that might be brought up to counter my view is that with our system of public roads and highways which are open to all without restriction or fee. But I think that too can be seen to work in favour of my argument.

For the case of a publicly funded infrastructure like roads the model has been for everyone to pay equally through taxes and then have unlimited use with an understood public obligation to expand the system as needed to accommodate all traffic. This has not always worked well. Not only has it led to perhaps inappropriate amounts of highway use (as opposed to other less intrusive or polluting options), but it has also run into an economic barrier as every new road or bridge soon gets filled to over its capacity – which seems to be leading to an increasing reliance on private toll-based options in order to recover the costs.

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