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Friday, February 04, 2011

Canadian caps and consumer rebellion

Previously on the blog, I indicated that the much-vaunted CRTC net neutrality rules may not be worth the paper they are written on. Today, with clear indications that government will over-turn its  light-touch policy, the CRTC chair will be 'grilled' (as tabloid-speak has it) in front of a Parliamentary committee concerned at plans to cap wholesale data delivery to independent ISPs, and will: "reiterate the Commission's view that usage-based billing is a legitimate principle for pricing Internet services. We are convinced that Internet services are no different than other public utilities, and the vast majority of Internet users should not be asked to subsidize a small minority of heavy users. For us, it is a question of fundamental fairness. Let me restate: ordinary users should not be forced to subsidize heavy users."
Its worth checking the Bell Canada usage based billing for its own retail customers, which is much more sophisticated and transparent than anything fixed ISPs provide in the UK, more like a mobile service. For instance, I have 797MB left in my monthly 3 allowance. (By contrast, Virgin Media's cable service brags about high speed but offers 11 hours of throttling per day in the ultra-small print.) Bell also states that "Customers may experience extended download and upload times when using P2P file sharing applications during the daily scheduled traffic management period which is currently scheduled from 4:30 pm to 2:00 am EST for Bell Internet DSL...P2P file-sharing usage are gradually decreased at the beginning of the peak period (from full speed down to 512 kbps at 4:30 p.m. and then down to 256 kbps at 6:00 p.m.) and then gradually increased towards the end of the peak period (up from 256 kbps to 512 kbps at 1:00 a.m. and then up to full speed at 2:00 a.m.)."
Does such a tool help transparency and traffic management? Yes. Does it indicate a real link between increasing Mb/s speed and the total download limit? No, and here may be the Canadian problem. Consider a rule that capping must increase at the same speed as advertised download speeds, at a ratio of 10Mb/s should provision 20GB/month downloading. Therefore 50Mb/s would have minimum 100GB provisioning and so on. In this way, CRTC would achieve its stated aims: 
"1. When congestion occurs, an ISP's first response should always be to invest in more network capacity. In a competitive marketplace where consumers have choice, it is in the ISP's best interests to have a robust network.
2. Realizing that network upgrades are not always the most practical solution, we indicated that if it is necessary to manage Internet traffic, it should be done through transparent, economic means.
 3. Traffic shaping and other technical means should only be employed as a measure of last resort, and in which case customers should be made aware of them ahead of time."

1 comment:

Benoît Felten said...

I would go one step further and suggest that caps should be based on actual consumption patterns, not advertised speeds. Want to cap the top 1% of users ? Fine, but that level of usage changes every month. Make it dynamic.